On 25 February 2014 the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaelia Cash announced an Independent Review of Integrity in the subclass 457 programme. In mid-March 2014 the panel began a period of extensive consultations with key stakeholders, including industry groups, unions, peak bodies, academics, 457 programme sponsors and State, Territory and Commonwealth government departments receiving in total 189 written submissions.
The panel was tasked with examining compliance within the 457 programme by sponsors of overseas workers to ensure that the scheme was being used as intended – to address skill shortages which cannot be met from the Australian labour market.
Late last week, Assistant Minister Cash released a final response adopting most of the recommendations from the Independent Review. The newly announced changes are designed to deliver a more streamlined process for responsible employers to access overseas skills where there is a genuine local shortage and strengthen efforts to identify and prosecute the minority who misuse the system.
Skilled migrants comprise a small, yet important part of the resource industry. During the recent period of increased resources investment and construction, 457 visa holders have bought new global skills to Australia and assisted the industry in meeting unprecedented skills demands.
Some of the measures adopted by the government include:
- Reducing the market rates threshold from $250,000 to $180,000. This means companies will only have to perform a salary comparison with an Australian worker for those earning less than $180,000, not less than $250,000
- Introducing flexibility into the English language testing scoring system, requiring only an average score of 5 in each of the 4 testing components rather than a strict minimum score of 5 in each
- Streamlined processing for trusted users of the system with more flexibility, less red tape and reduced costs
- Removing the current training benchmarks and replacing them with an annual training fund contribution, scaled according to business size and based on each
457 visa holder sponsored, with a new sponsor obligation to ensure employers can’t pass on the cost to a visa holder of a third-party
- Improve significantly the negotiation times for labour agreements, which the review panel report says is necessary to enable a “demand-driven and responsible pathway” for temporary migration where the standard 457 program arrangements are unsuitable
However, one concern with the government’s announcement relates to Labour Market Testing (LMT). Despite the Review Panel’s recommendation to remove LMT altogether, given its view that it is ineffective, the government is not adopting the Review Panel’s recommendation to remove LMT provisions.
When will the changes to the 457 Visa Program take effect?
In terms of timing, some of the announced changes will take effect almost immediately, while others will be progressively rolled out throughout the remainder of 2015. Some will require legislative amendments and others will be able to be done via Regulations.
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