Business groups slam proposed changes to skilled worker visas

Business groups have criticised the federal government’s move to crack down on temporary skilled worker visas known as 457 visas.

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor announced on the weekend the government would target “rorts” and “abuse” in the 457 visa scheme by tightening the rules in seven ways, including raising the English language requirements for workers and enforcing more training obligations on employers.

Earlier this month, O’Connor’s brother, Michael O’Connor, who is the national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, called for 457 visas to be abolished.

There are currently 83,840 workers in Australia under the visa scheme, which makes up about 0.7% of the workforce.

Business leaders have expressed dismay at the move and Peter Strong, the executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany SMEs would also be affected by the changes.

“The impact would be mainly a third party impact as if big business can’t get the workers they need, then it impacts on us,” he says.

“There are certainly small businesses out here which could use [457 visas] to their advantage so government should look at setting up a helpline to help them do the paperwork; the paperwork is designed for big business.”

Strong says COSBOA has been asking for assistance for SMEs with 457 visas “for years” as, at the moment, the small businesses which use the skilled visa program are mainly restaurants and trades.

Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, said the 457 program needed freeing up, not further tightening.

“Unemployment is still at historically low levels and there are many areas where local skilled labour is simply not available,” he said.

“Employers will always prefer to hire locally but we still don’t have the right skills in the right places and employers have been forced to turn to immigration programs to supplement their local workforce.”

Willox said the temporary skilled worker visas are already highly monitored and regulated.

Opposition small business spokesperson Bruce Billson told SmartCompany that O’Connor should substantiate his claims of rorts and abuse in the visa scheme as there has actually been a decline in the number of applications in recent years.

“There is no questions jobs should go to Australians first but we should also run a fair migration program and make sure workplaces have access to the employees they need,” he says.

“For small business, the 457 visa process is quite demanding and quite expensive and it’s certainly not something you would want to do unless you have exhausted every other option.”

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