Friday, April 1, 2016

Senate Education and Employment References Committee on the Exploitation of Temporary Resident Visa Holders

The recent report of the Senate Education and Employment References Committee on the exploitation of temporary resident visa holders, ‘A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders’, highlights the way in which current visa arrangements facilitate foreign worker exploitation and fail to protect the job opportunities of local workers. 

Including visa holders from New Zealand, the number of temporary visa holders in Australia has remained steady at around 1.8 million persons since 2013 (primary and accompanying visa holders combined). The majority of these visas have work entitlements attached to them.  The Committee’s report is valuable for its emphasis upon the broad range of such visas available and the scale of the associated flows. A major focus of the report deals with exploitation linked to the skilled temporary entry 457 visa.

The 457 visa category is demand driven, uncapped and virtually all occupations entering under the 457 visa program are exempt from labour market testing. A serious broadening and strengthening of labour market testing requirements for 457 skilled temporary entry visa holders, as recommended by the Committee, is essential. The flow of these workers has been slow to respond to worsening labour market conditions for local workers in many occupations. A factor explaining this is the pathway between 457 sponsorship and permanent residence, providing a back door to permanent migration for many workers who would not otherwise gain entry as independent applicants. About half of those sponsored on a 457 visa go on to acquire permanent residence. The link between skilled temporary entry and permanent residence needs to be reconsidered. With this motive in play, 457 visa holders are easily exploited because running foul of their sponsor jeopardises their prospects of permanent residence in Australia

457 visa holders, especially in the IT area, are paid at low rates compared with Australian industry norms. Further, as the report indicates, local training efforts are likely put at risk from easy access by Australian employers to relatively unchecked temporary resident flows. The recommendation to apply a training levy upon employers for each 457 entrant has merit, as does the recommendation to require employer sponsors of trade workers to demonstrate that 25% of their total trade workforce consists of apprentices. The recommendation that sponsors of 457 professionals be required to employ an Australian tertiary graduate is also sound.

Contrary to claims by government and business leaders that the 457 visa entry only consists of migrants with occupations that are in short supply in Australia, skills targeting under the program has been consistently poor. Only a relatively small proportion of skilled temporary entry workers arriving under the 457 program (around 36%) have had occupations listed on the Skilled Occupation List (SOL), which purports to identify occupations in short supply in the Australian labour market. Major anomalies have resulted. The SOL has included many occupations that were known to be in over supply. In recent years, for example, cooks have figured prominently in 457 visa arrivals even though cooks were not on the SOL.
457 temporary residents aside, the now massive temporary resident migrant flows include student visa holders (uncapped), working Holiday Makers (uncapped), and bridging visa holders. A factor which has had a severe impact on the job prospects of local workers is the ease with which temporary residents have been able to easily shift from one temporary resident visa type to another, enabling them to prolong their access to the Australian labour market irrespective of prevailing labour market conditions.

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