The Information Technology Professionals Association (ITPA) has taken exception to the Government's latest changes to its new skilled migrant visa program.
The Federal Government recently tinkered with its skilled migration visa policy, amending the list of approved occupations for its new class of visas in a bid to include a greater showing for the tech sector.
However, ITPA president, Robert Hudson, believes the latest policy shuffle is not a satisfactory response to the number of workers from overseas that are being bought in to fill low level IT jobs in Australia.
With adjustments to the skilled migrant worker visa program including the discontinuation of the 457 visa class – which is widely used by tech companies to find workers for hard-to-fill roles – and replacing it with two categories of skilled worker immigration visas.
The two new options include a two-year visa with no opportunity to apply for permanent residency and a longer four-year visa, which does allow are permanent residency pathway.
Hudson claimed that the new changes are still not addressing one of the biggest problems in the local tech industry.
“Many categories for IT workers have been slotted into one or the other but it is not solving one of the biggest problems faced by local IT Professionals, and that is the ability to get a start in the industry,” he mentioned.
In addition, he said that the recent shuffling of a few categories from one section to the other, in response to industry lobbying, means that effectively, there is no significant change to the system.
“Small, medium and large employers of IT staff are still able to access overseas labour, even low-level IT jobs, and save money on wages,” he said.
“Traditional entry level positions such as IT support, systems administration and software and system testing are still easily filled by international workers, many of whom are prepared to work for lower than market rate wages.
“Is the government seriously telling us that Australia companies are unable to find anyone in Australia capable of filling roles such as ICT customer support officers or software testers?” he said.
According to Hudson, level one ICT support positions are often the key starting points for tertiary-educated IT graduates to begin their careers as industry professionals, and by allowing these roles to be filled by international workers, he claimed that the industry is effectively denying local graduates from getting a start in the industry.
“That is why we find so many IT graduates are unemployed or working in other industries," he said. "There are just too few jobs of this nature being offered to graduates, yet people are being brought in from overseas to do the work.
“If local IT graduates are unable to find work in the IT industry, a reality which is currently at endemic proportions, then the next generations of students will not bother to study information technology and pursue careers in this industry,” Hudson added.
As a result, he suggested that the government introduce policy that encourages the industry to employ local IT graduates and helps to fund a tertiary education sector which produces graduates with the skills that are in demand from the industry today and in the future.
He added that without significant change to the current system, even in its refreshed format, there will not be a workforce being created locally, eventually resulting in lost wages, income tax and retail spending.
“Does the Government really want to ensure that in the future all IT workers in Australia will be brought in from overseas? If employers can simply get experienced workers from overseas who are willing to work for less than a fair wage that would reasonably be expected for entry IT support work, no matter how work-ready they are, local graduates are never going to be able compete for employment,” he said.
However, the Federal Government has already made significant strides towards supporting and promoting the development of home-grown skills.
On 9 May, in an address of the 2017 Federal Budget, Australian Treasurer, Scott Morrison, introduced the skilled migration levy for the skilled worker visas in question, with the resulting funds raised from the levy set to be prioritised towards apprenticeships and traineeships in occupations in high demand that currently rely on skilled migration.
The move which could see some organisations faced with an annual levy charge of up to $5000 for some workers. Specifically, the new measures are an annual foreign worker levy of $1,200 or $1,800 per worker per year on temporary work visas and a $3,000 or $5,000 one-off levy for those on a permanent skilled visa.
The government previously said that it aims to raise $1.2 billion from this levy over the next four years, in a bid to contribute directly to a new 'Commonwealth-State Skilling Australians Fund'.
Morrison said at the time that Australia's states and territories will only be able to draw on this fund when they deliver on their commitments to train new apprentices, locally.
“Skilled migration has always played a significant role in driving our economic growth. But it must be on our terms and we must skill more Australians to secure jobs,” he said previously.
It should also be noted that the initial changes to the skilled visa program, and the resulting scrapping of the 457 visa class was aimed squarely at prioritising Australian workers and Australian jobs.
"Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs, so we’re abolishing the 457 visas," Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said in April.
Moreover, the subsequent changes to the list of approved occupations for the new class of visas were prompted by feedback from the local tech industry.
Regardless, Hudson is now calling for “complete transparency” on all skilled IT visas granted, in addition to an independent verification system that confirms the jobs being filled by skilled work visa applicants are beyond the skills pool that exists in Australia.
“Such checks and balances are needed to ensure that all IT positions claiming the requirement of skilled migrants are indeed being first advertised to local graduates and that they are not being offered at reduced rates to overseas workers,” he added.