In 1996, then Prime Minister Paul Keating proposed the 457 Temporary Skilled Employer Sponsored Visa program. The subsequent Howard government then oversaw the implementation of the scheme, which enabled Australia to catch up to the immigration programs of many other developed countries, and thus increase its participation in global trade.
The program still exists today and is vital to our nation’s ongoing ability to fill skill shortages in the labour market. It was strengthened in 2012 after research indicated that newly arrived migrants were finding it difficult to get into their nominated skilled occupations, despite having passed the points test to obtain permanent residence.
In response to this research, and likely also to calls from Treasury to ensure immigrants go immediately into skilled, tax-paying positions, the Gillard government introduced a demand-driven rather than supply-driven migration program. This program shifted the emphasis from independent skilled migration, to employer-sponsored skilled migration, and consequently meant that the points tests for permanent resident status now focused on high levels of English skills and employability.
These qualifications, combined with the need to receive an invitation from the government to apply, means that candidates selected now have a higher chance of immediately gaining appropriate employment in areas of skills shortages. Since the shift in policy direction, the 457 program has only grown in popularity, and is now regarded is a highly developed system that the UK and other countries have sought to adopt.
So if the 457 program exists essentially to fill genuine skilled vacancies, why does it continue to attract such controversy? Criticism from some sectors of the community indicates there are those who believe the 457 program takes employment away from Australian-born citizens. The reality however, is that employers who participate in the scheme are obligated to train other Australian permanent residents or citizens within their companies, and demonstrate that a percentage of their payroll is being paid towards this training.
Sadly, it is true that some employers have attempted to exploit the system (the 7-11 convenience stores being the most infamous example). The vast majority however, are reputable businesses who have appropriately followed guidelines, and successfully filled skilled positions with qualified immigrants.
As we all saw in global research published last year, Australia is falling behind other countries when it comes to education. Until the Australian government improves quality of and access to ongoing training and education, there is a fear among the community that Australian businesses will stagnate and, eventually, be forced to move offshore. In relation to further evidence of our educational shortcomings, some pundits argue that rather than existing to disadvantage Australian workers, the 457 program remains necessary to fill skill shortages, as there is a perceived lack of motivation and qualifications among young Australians to fill skilled positions within the workforce.
A major benefit of the 457 program then, is that it provides opportunities to Australian business and its workers to learn about foreign markets and, in turn become more competitive. In today’s world of globalisation, it is vital that Australian companies and workers continue to be exposed to new skills and modes of creativity and production, or risk falling behind. This is a reality of modernity and global markets. It is better to have skilled foreign workers spending their money and paying taxes in Australia, as opposed to establishing businesses overseas.
Despite the obvious merits and benefits of the 457 visa program, the media and our politicians frequently focus on the negatives of immigration. Many of these so-called negatives are politically motivated attempts to exploit fears about healthcare provision, housing and services and fuel vote-winning hysteria within the community, and are simply not backed up by reality. The reality is that Australia as a nation continues to be made better by our immigrants now, just as we were after World War II. We are so isolated geographically, joining with immigrants and working side-by-side in the workplace helps build a path towards understanding and tolerance between people and their cultures. And that is the end goal we need to strive towards, if we are to embrace our multicultural society, and truly remain competitive on the global stage.
About the author
Melanie Macfarlane is the CEO and Principal Migration Consultant (MARN 0319166) of MMMigration, a Sydney-based migration consultancy with offices located in Melbourne, Brisbane and Colombia. Immigration is a serious business and Melanie is a serious immigration law professional providing excellence of service. Nonetheless, it is also her objective to bring some lightness and fun into the process and put a smile on her clients’ faces.