Growth in 457 visa numbers
FEBRUARY 12, 2007
Australian IT News
SKILLED migrants are coming to Australia in ever increasing numbers for temporary work, a parliamentary committee has been told.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship deputy secretary Abdul Rizvi told an estimates hearing today there had been a 17 per cent increase in the number of 457 visas awarded in the six months to December 31, 2006, compared with the corresponding period the previous year.
The 457 visa scheme allows foreign workers to come to Australia temporarily to fill particular skilled vacancies if an employer cannot fill the positions locally.
Nurses, chefs and IT professionals are among some of the most common approved applicants for 457 visas.
Primary applicants are the people applying for the visas, while secondary applicants include spouses.
Mr Rizvi told the Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee today that for the first six months of 2006-07, 21,464 primary applicant visas had been approved, which was 17 per cent higher than the same period in 2005-06, he said.
The government had approved 39,527 such visas for primary applicants for the whole of 2005-06, excluding independent executives.
A parliamentary inquiry is examining the 457 scheme, which critics say is poorly monitored by the Immigration Department, leaving migrant workers open to abuse and underpayment of wages and entitlements.
Mr Rizvi later told the committee the immigration department and Office of Workplace Services (OWS) had hit lists of rogue employers who may not be allowed to employ foreign workers on 457 visas for a variety of reasons.
“We, at the moment, hold not only a list of employers of concern that we have identified ourselves through the various processes, but there is also a list of employers of concern that OWS have identified which we maintain on our database,” he said.
“If any of those two sets of employers applies for a subclass 457 visa, that history will automatically come up and will need to be considered.”
Those employers may be under investigation for breaches of visa conditions, may have previously been sanctioned for a breach or may be the subject of allegations of exploitation of temporary migrant workers, he said.
Mr Rizvi said the immigration department was talking to state governments about whether they would be prepared to enter into similar arrangements for a database of rogue employers, including those with poor occupational health and safety records.
He said the department had increased monitoring of the 457 visa program and that was starting to show results.
There were about 300 investigations into allegations of breaches of the 457 visa scheme, out of a program of 10,000, he said.
Mr Rizvi said compliance monitoring of 457 visas was greater than for other classes such as occupational training visas, as it was considered a far higher risk for breaches.
There were 300,000 to 500,000 people in Australia at any one time who held visas with working rights, he said.