Changes to 457 visas to put turnover and age limits on SMEs finding overseas talent

Malcolm Turnbull Peter Dutton

Source: AAP/Lukas Coch

The small business community is urging the government to take care with the specifics of its new skilled migration visa program, with revised regulations putting limits on the turnover of businesses able to use the program, as well as the age of applicants.

After Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged to put “Australians first” by scrapping the often controversial 457 visa program in favour of a new skilled migrant model, a draft legislative instrument authored by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has been released, outlining details of new restrictions on how workers can come into the country and what criteria companies must fit in order to bring on visa holders.

The government promises the new visa model will “strengthen the integrity and quality” of the current visa system, and includes provisions to cap the age of applicants at 45.

Under new regulations, businesses with less than $1 million in annual turnover or fewer than five employees will also face exclusions for temporary worker visas.

However, Council of Small Business of Australia chief executive Peter Strong is worried this is counterintuitive. While Strong says it’s understandable the government would want to stop potential rorting in the space, high-growth businesses often need access to these workers.

“They [the government] were saying it was an area of risk for them, because if you’re turning over less than $1 million, there’s a range of positions that you just don’t need,” Strong says.

“I understand that, but there are people who want to grow their business and are looking for these workers and it’s going to stifle some innovators.”

While the review of the visa system was needed so the community could be assured of its fairness and integrity, Strong believes business owners and industry leaders should now have a say in the new policies to guide regulations to the most sensible conclusions.

“It’s very complicated — I understand complication is always going to exist when we talk about country to country movements. Let’s bring a good variety of business people who actually use it and get them to provide advice. That’s a really professional approach,” he says.

When it comes to capping the age of applicants for visas, Strong says it places another level of complication into the system, which isn’t sensible for the fast-growing companies the country wants to create.

“Again, if you need someone to run your company, and you can’t find someone to run it [in Australia] and the person that’s going to do it [from overseas] is a 60-year-old, then they’ve got all that experience and you’re going to want [to hire] them,” Strong says.

Earlier this week startup founders raised similar concerns about the impact of the new visa program on building strong teams.

“I’m concerned these changes are going to make it more difficult for Australian startups to find and recruit the international talent they need to compete in a global marketplace. Especially when we have a skills shortage in the tech space,” Tank Stream Labs chief executive Bradley Delamare said in a statement on the changes.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has consistently raised concerns about the exploitation of migrant workers, including 457 visa holders, while a Senate committee is currently undertaking research into corporate breaches of the Fair Work Act across the country. While Strong says it makes sense to fix problems in the system to discourage rorting or breaches, he believes says some of the measures included in the new model may need revisiting so that SMEs are not disadvantaged.

“Eighty precent of what we do [as small businesses] is about process and communication, and the million threshold adds to the complications,” he says.

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