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Overseas workers on 457 visas rise 20 percent over past year

Data released today show the number of overseas workers coming to Australia on 457 visas has jumped more than 20 per cent over the past year.

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Brendan O’Connor said the significant growth in the program highlighted the need for further reform.

‘There are now 108 810 457 visa holders – a 20.4 per cent growth in the 12 months to April 30. This is at a time when employment growth remains soft in some industries and regions,’ Mr O’Connor said.

‘A recent survey by the Migration Council revealed that 15 per cent of employers anonymously surveyed said they used 457 visas, although they could find appropriate local labour.

‘Increasingly we are seeing the misuse of the system by employers who are not making an effort to find local labour first, or who exploit overseas workers under this scheme, which is why the government will take further action to stop employers misusing the program.’

Mr O’Connor said the Gillard Government was committed to ensuring local workers were given local opportunities wherever possible.

‘Genuine skill shortages do exist in industries and locations right across Australia and we are attempting to ensure they get filled, while at the same time making sure locally skilled people don’t miss out on work,’ he said.

Mr O’Connor also announced the revised annual Skilled Occupation List (SOL), which reflected changes in skill shortage areas.

‘This list, designed to fill gaps in the workforce by attracting skilled migrants to Australia, no longer includes the skill categories of retail pharmacy and aircraft engineering,’ Mr O’Connor said.

‘The SOL is an important tool to meet demand for skills and includes a number of highly valued and skilled occupations across a range of industries including medical, engineering and mechanical services.

‘It’s important this list focusses on occupations in genuine need in the medium to long term and the up-to-date SOL maintains the government’s targeted approach to skilled migration.’

The SOL is based on the advice of the independent Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) and applies to independent migrants seeking to come to Australia.

The SOL is available from the Department of Immigration of Citizenships (DIAC) website.

Australian 457 visa crackdown continues

The Australian PM has once again, lit the blue touch paper with regards 457 visas and is planning to introduce monetary fines for company owners who fail to offer vacancies to Australian workers first.

Unions are pressuring the government to act before the Federal elections in Sept, claiming that under the current “tick-a-box” approach, companies are claiming they face local labour shortages without even advertising the jobs locally.

The changes are expected to be debated by cabinet ministers this week, with the changes including financial penalties for employers who lie or mislead authorities about labour shortages in order to import workers on 457 visas.

The 457 visa is the most commonly used program for employers to sponsor skilled overseas workers to work in Australia temporarily with a little more than 100,000 workers currently in Australia under the visa class.

The number of 457 visa classes has jumped 20 per cent in the last year.

Currently, bosses must claim there is a labour shortage to secure a foreign worker but do not have to prove it.

“Why do they like 457 visas if they have local labour available? Because they can deport these workers in a month,” a senior government source claimed.

Senior government sources also said the Department of Immigration was reviewing “serious” allegations over exploitation of some low-skilled workers, suggesting there was a “fine line” between the abuse of 457s and labour trafficking.

The 457 debate has sparked bitter divisions within government ranks, with accusations the Prime Minister was “dog-whistling” to racists.

Last month, former Labor leader Simon Crean said the debate over 457 visas was a good policy with bad rhetoric.

“She’s gone the class warfare,” Mr Crean said.

“The 457 visa debate was a good example of the message being taken out of context – because it looked like ‘we’ll put Australians before foreigners’. Unequivocally, immigration has been good for this country.”

Mr O’Connor sparked controversy earlier this year when he suggested the number of 457 visa rorts to be in excess of 10,000. “I can assure you we will be looking to legislate,” he said at the time.