Gillard government’s 457 visa bill angers ACCI and the BCA

New controversial 457 visa legislation was introduced by the federal government to parliament yesterday, angering business groups which believe the issue is being treated as “parliamentary football”.

The bill requires employers to conduct labour market testing to prove the need for a 457 visa worker. This requirement exists already, but the new bill requires employers to prove this testing has taken place.

The proposed requirement for a “local jobs check” would require all employers to demonstrate they had advertised for labour locally before sponsoring a worker from overseas.

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor said in a statement the new requirement only targets businesses which have been rorting the system.

“Australians would expect that businesses are making genuine efforts to find local workers first and this requirement will not impose any additional burden on those who are already doing the right thing,” he says.

The labour market testing will be a requirement for most businesses, but in “exceptional circumstances” some businesses will be exempt.

The Business Council of Australia says this condition is too unclear.

“There is no excuse to rush through legislation which risks undermining the capacity to fill identified skills gaps in a timely way without a proper assessment of whether there is a genuine problem and an analysis of the costs and benefits of solving any problem with regulation,” BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said in a statement.

While the BCA is in blanket opposition to labour market testing, labelling it as “costly and ineffective”, TressCox Lawyers partner and migration agent Rachel Drew told SmartCompany it’s “encouraging” there will be some exemptions.

“Essentially the jobs which are most in demand, like engineers and medical practitioners, most of these will be exempted and this is a good and positive step.

“For the businesses which won’t be exempted, this means there will be a delay. They won’t be able to apply for a visa as soon as they identify a vacancy,” she says.

Drew says this will result in some additional cost for business, but will provide greater safeguards for Australian workers.

“The legislation needs to take into account the needs for Australians who are here already, but at the same time there needs to be an acknowledgement that skilled workers who come here, particularly those at the start of their careers, will contribute to the economy and our long-term tax base.”

Drew says the current 457 visa laws state businesses must take an Australian worker if they are available, but employers do not currently need to provide any documentation in proof.

Recently released immigration statistics indicate the number of workers in Australia on a 457 visa increased by 19% between March 2012 and March 2013, with 190,920 skilled foreign workers in Australia.

The legislation also requires employers to invest between 1% and 2% of their total payroll each year into training both local staff and those on a 457 visa.

“It is important that all employees are given the opportunity to develop new skills where possible so that companies can rely on a locally trained workforce,” O’Connor says.

The bill has also empowered an additional 300 Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors to investigate any breaches of the visa system and has strengthened the Immigration Department’s ability to prosecute rorts and created a hotline for people to report employers using overseas labour unlawfully.

After ceasing employment, a foreign worker will also be able to stay in Australia for 90 days, up from 28 days.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson said in a statement the bill is “policy on the run”.

“Making skilled migration policy a political and parliamentary football in a pre-election environment is completely the wrong approach. For the sake of the economy, skilled migrants and Australians working overseas, the objective should be to retain bipartisanship in this important program. That means turning down political heat on the issue.

“While some changes may need to be made, there are proposals here which look like overreach and mad scrambling to plug an imaginary hole,” he says.

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