Indians on the 457 visa scheme are feeling the apprehension as the new changes to it come into effect.
“Australians first” was how Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made his announcement this April on scrapping the controversial 457 visa which will now be replaced by a stricter program, to be known as new Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa from March 2018. The 457 visa, which gave global workers including thousands of Indians access to Australia’s labour market, is being restored its credibility, opine some but is this move a rebranding exercise? Migrations experts and others The Indian Weekly spoke to feel there is a lot of apprehension right now in the market. More on that later.
But first let’s take a look at what are the changes from April 10, 2017.
According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIPB) statement, the occupation lists that underpin the 457 visa will be significantly condensed from 651 to 435 occupations, with 216 occupations removed and access to 59 other occupations restricted.
Of the 435 occupations, access to 24 occupations has been restricted to regional Australia (e.g. occupations relating to farming and agriculture).
The Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List (CSOL) will also be renamed as the new Short-term Skilled Occupations List (STSOL) and will be updated every six months based on advice from the Department of Employment.
The other occupations list used for skilled migration, the Skilled Occupations List (SOL) will be renamed the new Medium and Long-term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL). This list will contain occupations that have been assessed as being of high value to the Australian economy and aligning to the Government’s longer term training and workforce strategies, according to the statement.
The maximum duration of 457 visas issued from this date for occupations that are on the STSOL will be two years. Occupations on the MLTSSL will continue to be issued for a maximum duration of four years.
There will be a few changes from July for the existing 457 visa. The STSOL will be further reviewed based on advice from the Department of Employment. The MLTSSL will be revised based on outcomes from the Department of Education and Training’s 2017-18 SOL review. The English language salary exemption threshold, which exempts applicants whose salary is over $96,400 from the English language requirement, will be removed. Policy settings about the training benchmark requirement will be made clearer in legislative instruments. And provision of penal clearance certificates will become mandatory.
By December 2017, the DIPB will commence the collection of Tax File Numbers for 457 visa holders (and other employer sponsored migrants), and data will be matched with the Australian Tax Office’s records to ensure that visa holders are not paid less than their nominated salary. The Department will commence the publication of details relating to sponsors sanctioned for failing to meet their obligations under the Migration Regulation 1994 and related legislation.
The government says these measures will sharpen the focus of Australia’s employer sponsored skilled migration programmes to ensure they meet better Australia’s skills needs, increase the quality and economic contribution of skilled migrants and address public concerns about the displacement of Australian workers.
The affected parties are current 457 visa applicants and holders, prospective applicants, businesses sponsoring skilled migrants and industry. 457 visa applicants that had lodged their application on or before 18 April 2017, and whose application had not yet been decided, with an occupation that has been removed from the STSOL, may be eligible for a refund of their visa application fee. Nominating businesses for these applications may also be eligible for a refund of related fees.
Opinions are divided. Business groups have largely welcomed the government’s move, some such as accounting giant KPMG has been quoted by the media as saying “there is no evidence the current system is not working’’. Yet there are others who feel that the government has not been effective in enforcing penalties against some businesses. For the Australian Council of Trade Unions it doesn’t matter what new name one might call the visa scheme as long as the government puts an end to “the exploitation of workers and of work visas”.
The fact remains the new announcement has created some uncertainty in the labour market. We spoke to people in the business of migration and education to understand the prevalent mood.
Bina Shah of IAEC Education & Migration says, “There certainly is apprehension in the market as it always is whenever major changes are announced around a popular visa. I would reiterate that there is no need to panic as the temporary work visa is still a popular option for a large number of applicants and the pathway to permanent residency is also available for a number of popular occupations.
“The expectation is that the new temporary work visa program will still be beneficial to the overall community with changes to certain occupations made to reflect the labour market and economic conditions in the country. Any applicant (employee or employer) that either hold a 457 visa or are in the process of applying for one and are unsure of the new changes should seek advice through registered migration practitioners.
“I can only advice the employers and employees to not panic as the overall employer sponsored visa program is still intact. Please do not fall for unscrupulous people offering easy ways to get you a visa. There are no short cuts to securing your visa. Kindly contact a reputable and registered migration professional to ensure you get the right advice and guidance for the best way forward.
“Our view at IAEC Migration is that while the changes to the 457 visa program are significant, the revised program still offers significant options to the prospective employers and employees who want to utilise this program. Permanent pathway options are still open for popular occupations. Australia is a country built by migrants and it will remain so for a long time to come. The Australian Immigration Program is the cornerstone of its economic policy and continues to provide this country with the skilled labour force it always needs for many years.”
Suraj Handa of Handa immigration says, “It is not just Indians but the Australian businesses are also worried about it. Australia does not have big manufacturing industries but small scale industries. Eventually these small-scale businesses will not survive if there are shortages of skilled workers. Despite the fact that there are thousands of migrants coming in, these businesses are still facing the crunch. So it will affect not only Indians but everyone. Let’s see what happens as these skills list get narrowed down further. People are definitely worried. Some are in the in-between stage where they have lodged applications for 457 visas and now are unsure that they will be processed further. For those already on 457 visas and who see it as a path to permanent residency, if they are no longer in the skilled list they are in a quandary too as they have already invested a lot in their career. Basically they will be nowhere. If their list in invalid they have no right to appeal.”
Rupali Arora Bhatt, MARA agent at Nikee Business Group says, “I can talk about the hospitality sector because that is where we get our major clientele from. It has been hit badly because of all the changes. For instance, cooks are not on the occupations list now for permanent residency (PR). That means they can still go for 457 visas but they are not eligible to apply for PR. So even if we get a new subclass in 2018, you can still go for a two-year visa on these occupations but not for PR. As a result a lot of our clients are withdrawing their papers. With Indians, if they are coming here it is just not for jobs but they also want a permanent outcome, i.e, gain residency. The good thing is there other options such as the regional sponsored visa where they can get a 457 visa entry and the eligibility for PR. The new change is going to hurt the business and the economy as well because 90 per cent of the restaurants genuinely need specialised Indian cooks. So it is going to impact the hospitality sector. When these new rules were announced in April, it impacted the applications which were already lodged as we didn’t have any prior information. You can imagine the number of phone calls and emails we were flooded with. But now it is clear you can still go for 457 visas but you cannot go for PR.”
Gurpal Singh, Principal, Saundh, Singh & Smith Lawyers, says, “The 457 visa scheme was affecting the demographics and also the quality of people coming in to Australia and that is not what is expected of the scheme. So from the low rung professionals the shift is towards attracting high end professionals who should come through this stream of visa. It is affecting a lot of Indians per say because this visa scheme is used by Indians to gain permanent residency. We have seen people doing the course and after having spent some time they apply for PR. So government does not want people to stick to Australia just to gain residency but to fill the genuine skill shortages. All through, there had been complaints that the expertise level of people who were applying for PR was not in consonance with the expectations and even people were not working in the trade on which they got their PR. That is what the government is trying to remove.”
(As told to The Indian Weekly)