The number of foreign skilled workers in Australia on temporary visas has increased by approximately 82% in the past year, according to Immigration Department figures, with legal experts saying the change is greater evidence of a widespread skills shortage.
The latest Immigration Department figures indicate the number of skilled foreigners with working rights in Australia has increased from 331,000 in March 2012 to 402,710 in March 2013. These figures do not include international students who have not completed a university degree.
The largest increase came from those in Australia on temporary graduate visas (which allow you to live and work in Australia after finishing your studies), which increased 46.9% from 27,980 to 41,090.
Recently the target of a federal government crackdown campaign, the number of skilled workers in Australia on a 457 visa increased from 160,420 to 190,920, up 19%.
Get daily business news.
The latest stories, funding information, and expert advice. Free to sign up.
The number of tourists in Australia on a working holiday visa has also increased from 142,600 in March 2012 to 170,700 this year, up 19.7%.
The Immigration Department’s migration and visa policy division official, Kruno Kukoc, told a Senate committee yesterday out of 29,100 active sponsors of 457 visa workers, in the 10 months to April there had been 170 sponsors formally sanctioned, up from 93 for the same period in 2012, as reported by Fairfax.
Despite the increase in foreign workers and the number of businesses formally sanctioned for misusing the system, partner at TressCox Lawyers and migration agent Rachel Drew told SmartCompany there are already tight controls in place.
“There has been an increase in foreign workers coming to Australia on various types of visas and there have been some new categories of visas opened up as well over the past few years. But all of the categories have very strict requirements, including at least one skill requirement.
Drew says the Immigration Department figures indicate a skills shortage, not a rorting of the visa system.
“Just look at Australia’s unemployment, it’s relatively low for the midst of an economic crisis. Because we have relatively low unemployment, if businesses need to grow they need skilled staff.”
“I absolutely believe that this is what the increased figures mean, there is an increasing skills shortage in Australia,” she says.
As well as regulations detailing which skills workers need to be granted a visa, Drew says there are already measures in place within the system to ensure Australian workers are given priority.
“The changes are going to bring in a new set of criteria that businesses need to meet. There has always been at least one criterion around promoting Australian workers over overseas workers, and it’s really some tweaking around that requirement.
Drew says foreign workers are often hired for itinerate jobs, unattractive to local Australians, and for businesses the government crackdown will be detrimental, as it spells a period of uncertainty.
“It creates an uncertainty and that’s not going to benefit business. I was quite disappointed by the changes – the current system has enough safeguards in the current criteria to promote Australian workers.
“There will be an uncertainty for businesses which have come to rely on a steady flow of overseas workers that will be really detrimental,” she says.
Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said late last month the number of cases where the 457 visa system has been rorted could “exceed over 10,000“, but since this revelation the Immigration Department has said it hadn’t advised the minister of these figures.