Irish people could soon find it easier to migrate to Australia under just-announced reforms to the 457 skilled visa system.
“This is the government’s take on recommendations that came out in September,” Sydney-based migration agent John McQuaid said.
“On the positive side they are looking at increasing the sponsorship approval period for start-up companies from 12 to 18 months, and existing businesses will get a five-year approval instead of three. This means less red tape and will make 457s more attractive to employers,” he said.
It is not uniform good news though, as changes to training benchmarks could prove more costly for larger companies.
“The cost could change depending on the number of employees on 457s,” Mr McQuaid said. “The existing benchmark is that a company has to spend 1 per cent of its annual payroll on training Australian staff. The alternative benchmark is to give 2 per cent of payroll to an industry training fund. Some employers, particularly smaller ones, do that because it is more viable for them.
“The government is talking about tweaking that. From the initial statement it’s not exactly clear what changes they are going to make, but it appears that there is going to be a sliding scale depending on the number of 457 employees and the size of the business. If you were a small employer with two or three 457 holders it might benefit you, but if you are a big employer with a lot of temporary employees it may end up being more costly,” he said.
Michaelia Cash, the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, said the government review did not find widespread rorting of the program. “It did make some sensible suggestions, however, for strengthening existing provisions to ensure Australian workers have priority, while supporting employers with genuine skill shortages to access the skills they need,” she said.
Mr McQuaid was not surprised at this finding. “Most people using it are doing the right thing,” he said.
“It’s like everything else, you hear of three murders in the press and everybody’s walking around in fear of their lives, and you hear of two employers who have rorted the 457 system and you think everybody is being ripped off. But the fact is that of the 100,000 or so people here on 457s, most are on good salaries.
“There are some industries which have taken advantage of potential loopholes of lack of controls. There was one company recently that was hauled up for sponsoring people for jobs they weren’t actually doing.
“You hear of that in the hospitality or hairdressing industry where people end up working longer hours for a base rate of pay as opposed to getting paid overtime. But that is endemic in those industries anyway. A person on a 457 is supposed to be protected from that but [it] doesn’t mean that some employers won’t break the rules.”
Key recommendations of the review include an increased focus on targeting employers who seek to misuse the programme, greater transparency around the department’s sanctions processes and sharing of information between key government agencies.
“The government will introduce a new penalty making it unlawful for sponsors to receive payment in return for sponsoring a worker for a 457 visa,” Ms Cash said.
“The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will work collaboratively with the Australian Taxation Office to crosscheck records to ensure that workers on 457 visas are receiving their nominated salary and are not undercutting Australian workers.”
The government also intends to prosecute and name offenders exploiting overseas workers and misusing the 457 program.