Rules choking 457 visa flow
March 04, 2008
A LEGACY of the Howard government is still causing difficulty for technology sector recruiters, who haven't been able to bring foreign workers into the country on 457 visas since October.
After five months of protests, industry representatives' pleas on the changes to the 457 visa are being heard by the Labor Government, including a submission to establish a technology sector labour agreement.
Just before parliament rose for the election last year the then immigration minister Kevin Andrews toughened the training provisions in labour agreements for the 457 visa, but recruiters have been unable to meet the new requirements.
The changes were pushed through with minimal consultation with the industry, and as a result of them the Information Technology Contractors and Recruitment Association claims more than 1500 foreign workers have been prevented from entering the country.
“Since October 1 not one recruitment company in information and communications technology has had their labour agreements approved by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations or the Department of Immigration and Citizenship,” association executive chairman Norman Lacy said.
“The labour agreements are the only vehicle through which my member companies can bring people into the country, and to date none have been approved.
“This can't go on, because IT work can easily be exported and development projects can simply be moved to another country.”
There may be some relief on the horizon, as the association has confirmed it recently submitted proposals to both departments to establish a labour agreement for the 457 visa that would meet the needs of IT recruiters.
“We're seeking some variations from the generic labour agreement to make it possible for our members to continue to access people from other countries,” Mr Lacy said.
“We're serious about it, we've made a number of concessions, we've sought a number of concessions and we'll expect it will lead to a discussion.”
The submissions were received by both departments about two weeks ago, and a response is expected in a month.
Mr Lacy wouldn't disclose the variations it had requested, but he admitted they included provisions on training requirements in current labour agreements.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans met industry stakeholders in Melbourne two weeks ago to discuss the 2008-09 migration policy, and it's understood he indicated that he didn't favour an all-encompassing legislative model.
A spokesman for the minister didn't respond to a request to confirm this.
The Government, however, is listening to the industry's pleas on the problems that have basically brought 457 visa applications to a standstill for IT hire companies.
The Recruitment Contract and Services Association has more than 3000 on-hire members, and its requests for changes have been placed before Employment Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
“We've been having ongoing dialogue and discussion with the Deputy Prime Minister's office on this,” policy adviser Charles Cameron said.
“They've given us a very good hearing and we are confident they understand the issues and implications of maintaining this stance on 457.”
Last year, the two industry associations aligned their stance on changes to the labour agreements.
“I'm not highly optimistic of any rollback of the regulation, or its suspension, in the medium term,” Mr Cameron said.
“It's more likely we would be seeking amendments to the labour agreement to make it achievable or accessible to more than 10 per cent of on-hire firms.
“It's more likely that we need to look at labour agreements variations, at least in the short term.”
Mr Cameron said he was aware of only one RCSA member having a 457 visa application approved since the October 1 changes, and the sector needed a response in the next couple of weeks.
“It's desperately needed within the next two to three weeks, whether it's good, bad or indifferent. Our members need to know which way they're going.”
Mr Cameron didn't know how many applications its members had made, but the RCSA recently surveyed 150 companies, and came up with an estimate that in the next two years more than 3000 457 visa applications would be jeopardised by the changes.
“It was a relatively small sample taken in January to help Workplace Relations understand the gravity of the situation,” he said. “You don't need to look to far to understand it's having a big impact.”
Senator Evans has established an external reference group to review the situation and recommend changes to ensure that the 457 visa program operates as effectively as possible in contributing to the skilled labour supply.
The IT industry was overlooked for a spot on the three-person panel, which has two representatives of the mining industry.
Mr Lacy was disappointed about that, but welcomed the Government's moves to engage with the industry.
“I'm expecting we'll have the opportunity to make submissions and support those submissions and make our views known to the external reference group.
“There's a lot of ICT in the mining industry.
“We expect they will be aware of the issues that the ICT industry is having in finding people in Australia for specialised roles.”