More skilled migrants won’t fix s457 problem

The recruitment industry is baffled by a Government decision to launch an inquiry into the dysfunctional s457 temporary skilled visa regime, the sector’s peak body says.

Yesterday, when Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced an increase to the number of permanent skilled migrants to be allowed into Australia in 2007-08 by 6000, he also announced the formation of an external advisory group to examine the s457 visa system.

But lifting the cap on permanent settlement will not solve the problems with the s457 system that has caused temporary migration under it to effectively grind to a halt.

“The group will provide me with specific advice on ways to ensure the temporary work visa system, also known as the subclass 457 visa program, operates as effectively as possible in contributing to the supply of skilled labour,” Senator Evans said.

The inquiry means the recruiting industry will have to wait until April for a decision from the Minister on whether any change will be made to the s457 visa system.

The flow of workers entering Australia on s457 visas for businesses in skills shortage sectors has all but dried up since the Howard government last year imposed costly new training requirements on recruitment companies using the visas.

Recruitment and Consulting Services Association policy adviser Charles Cameron says he is perplexed as to why the Minister felt an inquiry was needed before action could be taken.

“We’re really looking for a quick solution given how big an issue this is and, given that we’ve been lobbying the Government since December on this issue, we were hoping for a decision a week ago rather than a further month from now,” Cameron says.

Many employers and recruiters, particularly in the resources and health sectors, say they rely heavily on skilled workers on temporary visas to meet staffing shortfalls, but unions fear they reduce employer incentives to invest in training local workers.

Cameron says that while 6000 additional permanent skilled migrants will help address the skills shortage, it will not be enough to meet the surging demand for labour.

“Our survey results indicate that we could inject hundreds or even thousands of s457 workers into the mining and construction and health sectors immediately just by putting these regulation changes on ice until the review is completed,” Cameron says.

The advisory group will provide an interim report to the Minister on 14 March. It will be comprised of former Minerals Council of Australia chairman Peter Coates, Business Council of Australia deputy chief executive Melinda Cilento and former WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy boss Tim Shanahan.


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