Visa surge stirs rorts fear
MAY 08, 2007
THE Australian Services Union says it is investigating complaints of visa rorting in the IT industry after the Immigration Department revealed a surge in demand for 457 visas.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship issued more 457 visas for IT professionals in the nine months to March 31, 2007, than during the entire previous financial year.
The department issued 4290 457 visas to IT firms in that period, compared with 4190 for the previous year.
If the department continues to approve applications for 457 visas at current rates, the number of IT professionals using the scheme will jump 35 per cent this year.
ASU NSW assistant secretary Sally McManus said union members had complained that work colleagues imported into Australia on 457 visas were being paid minimum wages. The ASU represents IT professionals.
Ms McManus said the ASU was not opposed to the use of the 457 visa to fill gaps in Australia's IT skills line-up, but there was growing concern among union officials that the scheme could erode conditions for local IT professionals while deskilling Australia's workforce.
“From our perspective, we know that this is a massive loophole that companies can use, and the Government can have there, to avoid the long-term issues of training a skilled Australian workforce,” Ms McManus said.
Last week, The Australian revealed that the Council of Australian Governments was reviewing proposals to overhaul the skilled migration scheme. A discussion paper outlining the proposals said the scheme left migrant workers exposed to exploitation.
Migration recruitment specialist Entity Solutions said few Australian companies would abuse the 457 scheme.
“What we've found is that most companies would get a local resource if they could. It's certainly not more time-effective or cost-effective,” said Lindy Northover, general manager of Entity's migration division.
The department said the 457 visa program had rules to protect working conditions for Australians.
A department spokeswoman said: “Foreign workers are not a cheaper option for employers, as employers must pay the minimum salary level, flights to and from Australia and medical insurance for workers. The salary for skilled IT workers on the 457 is about $56,700 compared to the entry level IT for Australians, which is much lower.
“As a sponsor company you have to show a very clear commitment to training the Australian employees in the company, and that's both in dollar figures and in formal training,” she said.
Ms McManus said the scheme still allowed companies to avoid massive costs associated with training workers locally.
Some ICT companies have recently applied to increase their quota of 457 visas. Enterprise IT services specialist UXC confirmed it had applied for 100 457 visas. “In certain skills areas it's just not possible to get local staff,” UXC spokesman Stuart Dickinson said.