457 Visas ‘May Cost Local-Born Their Jobs’

457 visas 'may cost local-born their jobs'

By Paul Maley
The Australian, February 20, 2009

Australia's record intake of temporary skilled migrants during the economic downturn could boost the number of Australian-born unemployed, as research suggests it is being used as a 'back door' to permanent entry by low-wage workers.

The claim comes from Monash University population expert Bob Birrell, who said more of Australia's permanent skilled migrants were being sourced from the 457 visa program, which was drawing on workers from low-wage countries in increasing numbers.

'People at the lower end of the spectrum are becoming permanent residents,' Professor Birrell said. 'They're vulnerable to exploitation because the employer knows they're not going to quibble with what he's offering them because they're desperate to get the permanent resident nomination.'

As the global recession worsens, Professor Birrell said it was time for the Rudd Government to rethink its record high migration intake.

He said the tough economic climate would give employers added incentives to employ or retain cheap overseas labour in the place of local workers.

Professor Birrell, a long-time critic of a high migration quota, said the research, which was co-authored by Ernest Healy and 457 visa expert Bob Kinnaird, was in response to Immigration Minister Chris Evans's decision in December to give priority to migrants with a job or with critically needed skills.

That decision was seen as an alternative to cutting the migrant quota, an option flagged by Kevin Rudd last year in response to the worsening economic conditions.

Last May, Senator Evans announced an increase in the permanent migration program of 37,500. The increase brought the total number of skilled migrants to 133,500, plus 56,500 family reunion places and 13,500 humanitarian visas.

Overall, Australia is taking more than 200,000 new migrants a year.

In 2007-08, about 58,050 migrants came in under the 457 program, a figure that excludes their family members.

Professor Birrell said, in that year, about 90 per cent of the 17,760 permanent migrants who were sponsored by an employer onshore were former 457 visa holders.

Holders of 457 visas are subject to less stringent language requirements and there is no labour market testing, meaning employers do not have to demonstrate that the position cannot be filled locally.

A minimum salary level of $43,440 applies for most 457 visa workers.

In a trend that has alarmed unions, who fear the 457 program is being exploited by business to undercut wages, the program is increasingly sourcing workers from the developing world.

In 2007-08, 8250 Indian workers came in under the program, compared with 2880 in 2004-05.

Over the same period, the number of Filipino workers jumped from 600 to 5120, and the number of Chinese workers rose from 930 to 3360.

A spokesman for Senator Evans said yesterday the 457 program had sharply declined amid worsening financial conditions. 'Figures show that application rates for subclass 457 visas in January 2009 are now 30per cent lower than in September 2008, when the economic downturn struck,' the spokesman said.

Furthermore, plans to introduce market rates for 457 workers would effectively make them a more expensive option, the spokesman said.

A cut in next year's migration program was also likely, he added.