Foreign Workers Feel The Squeeze As Slowdown Hits

Foreign workers feel the squeeze as slowdown hits

Australian IT
Jennifer Foreshew
March 31, 2009

FOR almost a month, 457 visa holder Gary Spencer desperately scoured for work in Sydney without any luck.

The IT worker from England has been forced to head to Canberra to secure a job and remain in Australia.

“I just kept getting pipped at the post for roles in Sydney because there are so many people looking right now and unless you tick all the boxes of criteria then you don't get the job,” Mr Spencer said.

The senior test analyst found himself out of work when his contract in the financial sector ended.

He started a six-month contract role with a federal Government department last week.

Spencer, who first came to Australia for a working holiday on a 417 visa, decided to stay in Sydney and convert to 457 visa status.

The federal Government's recent shake-up of the skilled migration scheme has not affected IT workers coming here from overseas, but their job prospects are drying up, recruiters say.

Taylor Coulter director Penny Coulter said there would be minimal opportunities for overseas IT workers while the financial crisis lasted.

“There are an awful lot of Australians who are very talented and experienced who are seeking work,” so 457 visa holders would need very rare skills to be successful in securing other work, Ms Coulter said.

“Once their project is completed, employers will lay off contractors, whether they are from overseas or local,” she said.

“From an employer's perspective there is no difference because business is business.”

Ms Coulter said it made sense for most employers to hire locals because it cost, on average, 30 per cent more to hire a person from overseas.

When her firm advertised a particularly rare skill it often heard from people on working holiday visas (417 visas), who were desperate to find more permanent work and be sponsored on a 457 visa, she said.

“There are a fair few 417 visa holders out there, but the next six to 12 months are going to remain very tough and tight, so their prospects are not particularly good.”

Despite the downturn, recruiters agree technology should remain on the critical skills list for immigration. Ambition Technology managing director Andrew Cross said the job prospects for 457 visa holders were in flux.

“While the unemployment rate continues to rise there is a real fear that if immigration policy is not looked at carefully, we may indeed be importing unemployment, so to speak,” Mr Cross said.

Mr Cross said the “specific and often unusual mixes” of skills and experience sought by employers meant there were still skills shortages for certain IT areas, which would not change as a result of the extra IT resources entering the market.

While on a 457 visa, a skilled overseas worker must work exclusively and full-time for the sponsoring business.

If employment ceases, the sponsoring business must advise the Department of Immigration and Citizenship within five days that the visa holder is no longer employed by the sponsor.

The department will write to the skilled overseas worker advising them they have 28 days to renew their immigration status in Australia, after which their visa will be cancelled.

Within the 28-day period, the skilled overseas worker has a number of options: either find another business to sponsor them on a 457 visa, lodge a visa application of a type that will allow them to remain in Australia lawfully, such as a spouse or de facto visa, or leave the country, with the repatriation costs met by the sponsor.

According to department statistics, between July last year and February this year 4520 visas were issued for technology skills on the 457 scheme.

There were 4870 in the same period a year ago.

As there was less demand for IT skills, it was to be expected that not so many people would come to Australia on 457 visas. “I don't think there is any doubt that given there is less demand for IT jobs right now that you wouldn't expect that we would have as many IT people on 457 visas come to Australia,” Peoplebank chief operating officer Peter Acheson said.

“If IT demand picks up like we expect it will in the second half of the year, then depending on what roles and what areas, it would be possible that all of a sudden we will need to bring in more people on 457 visas.”

Historically, he said, the percentage of 457 visa holders who sought permanent residency was high.