Australia – Federal Government announces changes to 457 skilled visa program after review into rorts and abuse

Australia – Federal Government announces changes to 457 skilled visa program after review into rorts and abuse

The Federal Government says it will reduce regulation at the same time as it strengthens the integrity of Australia's 457 skilled visa program
March 21, 2015 Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash released the Government's response to a review into allegations of rorts and abuse in the system. The Government will adopt most of the 51 recommendations. "For example, in relation to the integrity of the 457 program we will strengthen that by increasing focus on, and resourcing for monitoring of 457 sponsors," Senator Cash said. "We're also looking at the introduction of a new penalty making it unlawful for sponsors to be paid for a migration outcome, greater transparency around the department's sanction processes, increased information sharing among key government agencies, in particular the Australian Taxation Office."

She said the review of the 457 visa program did not reveal the widespread rorting claimed by the previous government, but the Government will increase scrutiny on businesses suspected of doing the wrong thing.

The Government's response to the review has received a broad endorsement from business and industry groups.

Chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, praised the response as balanced.

"This does take some of the bureaucratic weight off business and it still allows the program to run but it ensures that any unscrupulous behaviour by employers is cracked down on and that's the right thing," Mr Willox said.

The Government aims to have all changes put into place by the end of this year, but the union movement says it is still pushing for a broader inquiry into all temporary visas.

The Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) secretary Dave Oliver is "deeply concerned" about the use of visas like 457s.

"At a time when we've got unemployment in this country sitting (at) 6 per cent, youth unemployment at 14 per cent and we've got a Government that is trying to loosen requirements for bringing temporary workers from overseas," Mr Oliver said.

Labour market testing to stay for now

The Government has not adopted all of the review's recommendations.

The review called for the abolition of labour market testing, which requires employers to test the local market for suitable employees before sponsoring someone on a 457 visa.

The Government has noted that recommendation, but is not going any further yet.

"We're not going to rush to remove labour market testing in an unconsidered manner, rather what we'll be doing is referring the matter of labour market testing to the newly constituted ministerial advisory council on skilled migration for advice on appropriate arrangements to ensure Australians have priority," Senator Cash said.

Mr Willox said it will keep working to change the Government's mind on that recommendation.

"We believe labour market testing when it comes to 457s is costly, and it's ineffective and it doesn't achieve much," Mr Willox said.

They are also promising to carefully watch the development of a new training fund to replace the current scheme of training contributions.

"The principle of the fund is good, there is no problem with that at all and it should go into training, because we do need to train our workforce first," Mr Willox said.

"The issue is just how much businesses should put into that, how the fund will be governed and then the process around what happens with large and small businesses."

The union movement has a different set of concerns about the proposed training fund.

The ACTU is worried it could see less money going towards training more local workers, not more.

"We've long argued that if you're going to have at one end of the spectrum the capacity for employers to bring workers in from overseas there should be a requirement on them that they should be putting money into a training fund so we can train up local people," Mr Oliver said.

The Minister rejected his concerns and said unions will be involved in consultations about the new scheme over the next few months.

"This recommendation is all about improved training opportunities for Australians which are done in a transparent manner," Senator Cash said.

English language test to become 'more flexible'

The Government is also adopting recommendations to change the English language testing requirements for 457 visas.

Applicants will now have to average a score of five across the four components, instead of passing each one.

Unions say that raises safety concerns.

"Particularly in those hazardous industries of building and construction where it is important that you can have effective communication skills and we are deeply concerned that any watering down of that test could put these workers at risk," Mr Oliver said.

The Government says it is not a dramatic change.

"We have also put in a floor, they will not be able to achieve anything less than 4.5 in any of the components, so it does not represent a consequential lowering of the English language requirement, it merely represents some flexibility," Senator Cash said.

The Australian Industry Group says the changes are welcome, and it believes the Government could have gone further.

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