Senate committee recommends changes to the temporary work visa program

On 24 March 2015, the Senate referred the inquiry into the impact of Australia’s temporary work visa programs on the Australian labour market and visa holders to the Education and Employment References Committee (Committee). On 17 March 2016 the Committee handed down its report entitled “A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders” (Report). As the title suggests, the Report was damning of the current temporary work visa program and made some wide-reaching recommendations for change.

The Report has some interesting information in relation to Australia’s temporary work visa programs. For example, in the last 20 years the number of 457 visas granted each year has grown from 25,786 in 1996-97 to 71,316 in 2014-15. Furthermore, on average approximately 50%[1] of 457 visa holders later move to permanent residence, most commonly through the Temporary Residence Transition stream or the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. Given the government’s migration intake for 2014-15 of 128,550 permanent visas in the skilled stream, this is a significant proportion of the overall migration program. This, together with the recent high profile cases of worker exploitation under the 457 visa program, has lead the Committee to carefully consider wide-ranging aspects of the program.

The Report contains 33 recommendations, including the following (although there are a number of additional recommendations covering a broad range of topics including workers rights and education, labour agreements, franchising arrangements, working holiday visas, publication of statistics and compliance):

  • Publishing data regularly on the number of temporary migrants resident in Australia by length of stay.

  • A review of the period of time to qualify for permanent residence.

  • Indexing the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) to the average fulltime weekly ordinary time earnings (AWOTE) as at 1 July 2015 and that indexation occur each financial year.

  • The replacement of local workers by 457 visa holders be specifically prohibited.

  • The current exemptions on labour market testing for ANZSCO skill levels 1 and 2 be removed.

  • That labour market testing be required for all positions under labour agreements and Designated Area Migration Agreement.

  • The Working Holiday Maker visa program be reviewed, in particularly the costs and benefits of the optional second year extension and cap on the number of visas issues each year.

  • Sponsors of a 457 visa holder (professional) would be required to employ an Australian tertiary graduation in the same enterprise on a one-for-one basis.

  • Sponsors of a 457 visa holder (trade) be required to demonstrate that apprentices represent 25% of their trade workforce (the threshold being 4 or more tradespersons).

  • Training benchmarks be replaced with a levy of up to $4000 per 457 visa holder paid into existing government programs.

The full report is available at: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Education_and_Employment/temporary_work_visa/Report

[1] Percentages range from 44% to 54.5% since 2010

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