Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has flagged plans to abolish the country’s subclass 457 visa program, the provisions of which are leaned on heavily by the local IT industry to recruit skilled workers from overseas.
Turnbull announced the move in a Facebook video message on 18 April.
“We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains, Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs, so we’re abolishing the 457 visas, the visas that bring temporary foreign workers into our country,” Turnbull said.
“We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.
“However, it is important businesses still get access to the skills they need to grow and invest, so the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa, specifically designed to recruit the best and brightest in the national interest,” he said.
According to Turnbull, the new visa set to replace the 457 visa, the Temporary Skill Shortage Visa, is aimed at better targeting genuine skills shortages, including in regional Australia.
“It will include new requirements, including previous work experience, better English language proficiency and labour market testing,” Turnbull said. “To help train Australians to fill skills gaps, we will also establish a new training fund.”
“We’re putting jobs first; we’re putting Australians first,” he said.
During a press conference on 18 April, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, indicated that workers in Australia already on 457 visas will remain unaffected for the remaining time on their current visas, with the existing provisions set to be "grandfathered" until renewal rolls around.
However, the new visa program set to replace the 457 visa is aimed at removing or reducing the pathways to permanent residency offered by the current program.
According to Turnbull, the four-year 457 visa will be replaced by two new temporary visa categories, the first of which will be a short-term visa, allowing for a period of up to two years, and covering a smaller number of occupations than the current 457 regime.
The second, medium-term replacement visa option will last for a period of up to our years, and will require tightened English language requirements, and will be issued only for more critical skills shortages.
From 19 April, the occupation lists that underpin the 457 visa provisions will be condensed from 651 to 435 occupations, with 216 occupations removed, and access to 59 other occupations restricted.
Among the jobs titles removed entirely from the list of eligible skilled occupations under the scheme are ICT support and test engineer, ICT support technician and telecommunications technician.
The new visa regime will also include a strengthened training obligation for employers sponsoring foreign skilled workers to provide enhanced training outcomes for Australians in high-need industries and occupations.
The announcement comes just months after the Federal Government made moves to clamp down on 457 visa provisions.
The government announced on 16 November that it would reduce the amount of time skilled international workers on 457 visas can remain in Australia after leaving their jobs from 90 days to 60 days.
“This change is about reducing competition from overseas workers for those Australians who are actively looking for work” said the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, at the time.
However, Australia’s Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science, Greg Hunt, subsequently singled out IT workers amid the plans, conceding that the local tech industry has a genuine need of workers that had come to Australia under the 457 visa provisions.
“Well, our approach is really simple. And that is, these are visas for areas that need the actual work,” Hunt told ABC Radio, at the time. “In the IT sector, there is no question.
“I've met with business leaders, with managers this week and they've said, where there are gaps in Australia, if we can bring people in, they not only provide the employment which allows us to run our businesses here, but they train Australian workers and help them to be part of a globally competitive local business,” he said.
According to figures taken from the Department of Immigration, 457 visas have been granted to more than 9,000 software and applications programmers since 2014, providing a hefty boost to Australia’s IT workforce.
Meanwhile, in March, the IT Professionals Association (ITPA) claimed that local tech firms were abusing the 457 visa system by hiring international staff for entry level IT support positions rather than local graduates.
For Tim Parker, CEO of digital services provider, Gruden, the move to scrap the 457 visa provisions will not stop the company from hiring skilled international workers to fill its local tech roles.
“As a technology company, Gruden has been heavily dependent on 457 visas to provide the top quality, qualified talent we need to deliver digital transformation to our clients," Parker said.
“With a number of our staff on such visas we applaud the grandfathering of existing 457s, as we do the intent to provide training to nurture local talent.
"However, given that many countries have been teaching coding in kindergarten for a decade or more, Australia is well behind in the tech talent stakes," he said.
As a result, Parker said that Gruden will continue to require imported talent in the short-term, and hopes that the new arrangements recognise this continuing need.
“Otherwise the imperative to offshore our software development could increase at the expense of the local economy," he said.
The 457 visa is currently held by around 95,000 skills workers in Australia. Implementation of the new visa will begin immediately, with full implementation to be completed by March 2018.