Mykolas Kalicius moved from Lithuania several years ago on a student visa, transferred to a 457 visa, then became a
permanent resident. Picture: James Croucher
PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull said changes to the 457 visa system would put Australian workers first, but there was one statistic he didn’t mention.
Changes to the system have already been claimed as a victory by conservative senators Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi.
Ms Hanson said the change to the system was because of One Nation.
Mr Bernardi, who left the Liberal Party to form the Australian Conservatives, said the change was because of pressure from his party.
Mr Turnbull said the four-year visa system, which permits highly skilled migrants to apply for permanent residency at its conclusion, would be replaced in a bid to protect Australian jobs.
The 95,000 skilled migrants currently in Australia on 457 visas would be unaffected and still be able for permanent residency at the end of the four years.
“We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians,” Mr Turnbull said.
Unlike the current visa arrangement, the replacement — a two year temporary visa specifically designed to recruit the “best and the brightest” in the national interest — will not allow permanent residency at its conclusion.
However, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the 95,000 people already in the country on a 457 work permit would be unaffected by the change and permitted to apply for residency.
“They will continue under the conditions of that visa,” Mr Dutton said.
The program will be replaced by another visa program, with new restrictions.
“It is important businesses still get access to the skills they need to grow and invest, so the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa, specifically designed to recruit the best and brightest in the national interest,” Mr Turnbull said.
But the announcement has been met with backlash, with many pointing out that less than 1 per cent of Australia’s 12 million strong workforce are on 457 visas.
The decision has been welcomed by employers but dismissed as “tinkering at the edges” by trade unions.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey dismissed the new arrangements, saying it’s unlikely there will be any real change.
“What we really need is a root and branch review, so that migrant exploitation and wage theft is properly tackled and Australian standards are both maintained and improved.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten slammed the plan.
“Make no mistake, the only job Malcolm Turnbull cares about saving is his own,” he tweeted.
Mr Turnbull said Mr Shorten, as employment minister in a Labor government, was the gold medal winner of issuing 457 visas.
“The fact is that Bill Shorten likes to talk about Australian jobs, but whenever he’s had the opportunity in government to protect them, he’s failed them.”
The Prime Minister maintained the change was about protecting the jobs of Australian workers.
“The fact remains Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs,” he said.
Under the government’s plan the list of occupations that qualify for a temporary visa will be reduced from its current number of more than 200.
The visas will be limited to a two-year period that require previous work experience.
A second four-year visa will require a higher standard of English language skills as well as a proper criminal check.
The new system would be “manifestly, rigorously, resolutely” conducted in the national interest to put Australian jobs first, Mr Turnbull said.
WHAT IS A 457 VISA?
* The 457 visa program allows business to employ foreign workers for a period up to four years in skilled jobs where there is a shortage of Australian workers.
* The numbers are uncapped and there is no limit on the number of times they can travel in and out of Australia.
* Foreign workers can bring their families to work or study.
* Employers must apply to sponsor a 457 worker or enter into a formal labour agreement with the government.
* They must show they are training locals.
* As at September 30, 2016 there were 95,757 workers in Australia on primary 457 visas and 76,430 secondary visa holders (members of their family).
* But numbers are in decline — in March there was a 9.2 per cent drop in primary 457 visa holders compared to 2015.
* In July 2013 new laws came into effect, including giving Fair Work Australia the power to investigate breaches of the system.
* Labor called for jobs to be advertised locally for at least four weeks before a foreigner is sourced.