The scrutiny being imposed on foreign workers under the 457 visa program will continue, with Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor signalling legislative change as he confirmed the number of breaches is more than 10,000.
O’Connor told Sky Australia this weekend the precise number of breaches of the 457 visa program is unknown, but there is a chance it could “exceed over 10,000” cases.
The Immigration Minister also said the government had always supported the scheme as an “important vehicle” to respond to skill shortages, but the system is being rorted.
“What we do need to ensure is that the 457 visa scheme is used legitimately and not as a replacement for employing local people,” he says.
“And what we’ve always said is, insofar as skilled applications, is that where there are clearly shortages in any area of our economy or any region of Australia then we need to use this visa scheme effectively.”
“But where there are not shortages it should not be a replacement and it should not be the first option for employers,” he says.
O’Connor says there is evidence which indicates foreign workers are being employed in sectors where there is not a skills shortage and jobs are being misrepresented.
“We’ve got evidence to show that the nature of the job that was on the application is nothing like the job that actually exists when the application is processed and the applicant fills that job.
“Insofar as numbers, I believe that the areas where there’s been an illegitimate use of 457s numbers in the thousands, it’s not negligible,” he says.
O’Connor says he will introduce legislation prior to the election.
“I’ve always said there is a combination of reforms. So we would look at administrative, regulatory and legislative.”
“I’m yet to determine what parts of the reforms would be introduced in legislation but I can assure you we will be looking to legislate,” he says.
SmartCompany contacted O’Connor, and shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison for comment, but received no response prior to publication.
Research released by O’Connor on Sunday showed between March 2012 and March 2013, the number of 457 visa holders in Australia had increased by 19.2% to 105,600.
O’Connor says if the demand for these visas continues at the current rate, there will be 350,000 temporary workers in Australia within the next three years.
O’Connor says the biggest growth areas for these visas are in the accommodation and food services sector and in retail, and these workers are also in the two lowest paying industries.
Executive director of the Council of Small Businesses of Australia, Peter Strong, told SmartCompany the crackdown will have a greater impact on big business than SMEs.
“Hiring a foreign worker involves so much red tape. I’m sure there are many little restaurants out there which would like to have a cook from overseas, but the paper work makes it so hard,” he says.
“It’s such a complicated area. We need a lot more information about what’s going on so we can make a more informed decision.”