The Australian government announced sweeping changes to the 457 Visa and Employer Nomination Scheme this week.
This has created confusion and concern amongst employers and employees in the retail industry, according to leading immigration firm Fragomen.
Fragomen's Robert Walsh explained that the 457 program has worked effectively as a demand driven temporary skilled visa program with the number of visas granted rising and falling with changing circumstances in the labour market.
“The vast majority of companies using the 457 program and the individual holders of these visas have fully complied with the program’s requirements. Importantly, the 457 visa program has made it clear to the world that Australia is open for business,” Walsh said.
“However the 457 program has been caught up in the allegations of abuse of temporary visa holders in some sectors, largely involving visas other than the 457 visa. Any changes must ensure the integrity of the program and support within the Australian community is maintained.”
While the broader policy debate continues, Walsh advises that those impacted by the changes announced to date and foreshadowed should seek informed advice about what the changes mean for them.
“We know that many employers in Australia are concerned about whether they can retain their current workforce and continue to employ people from overseas,” added Walsh.
“With such significant changes to these visa classes it is important to know how the changes will affect individual employees and their families, companies and their sponsorship arrangements.”
“For example, the combined occupation lists have been significantly shortened from 651 to 435 occupations in total with 216 occupations removed and restricted access to 59 other occupations, now subject to caveats based on factors such as the occupation itself; location, size and nature of the business; proposed base salary; and minimum level of experience required,” Walsh explained.
Other key changes include broader English language requirements, police clearances will become mandatory for all 457 Visa applications, mandatory labour testing, a requirement for employers to contribute to training Australians will be strengthened and new restrictions on visa renewals.
“The new occupations lists will impact all lodged 457 nominations and visas that are still being processed,” said Walsh.
“This may mean these applications may need to be withdrawn and an assessment made as to whether a new 457 application can be lodged based on a new occupation. The amendments will also impact employees who currently hold 457 visas in terms of eligibility for a further visa application.”
“The changes are many and complex and we know how stressful it is for many people from overseas working in Australia or companies with a workforce supported by employees on 457 visas. Getting the right advice is critical so that those impacted can work out what their options are and to plan ahead,” added Walsh.
With some 800,000 Australians living and working overseas at any one time as well as ongoing skill shortages in key occupations and Australia being a key member of the global economy, it is imperative that the successes and core policy drivers of the 457 program are not lost in the current round of changes as announced.
“We need to make sure that our migration program continues to play a central role in Australia’s economic development across all sectors, competing effectively against other countries and creating an environment that attracts and supports talented people from around the world.”
"It is fundamentally important that the successes and positive impact that the 457 visa program has had over many years are not thrown away in the implementation of the changes over the next 12 months", Walsh concluded.