Money Work Legal expert: 457 visa rules are ‘farcical’
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Legal expert: 457 visa rules are ‘farcical’

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Don't expect a full-time job if you're young, expert warns. Photo: Getty
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A Facebook post and a job title are all that stand in the way of importing foreign workers into Australia, a legal expert has warned.

University of Adelaide senior law lecturer Dr Joanna Howe, who has researched 457 visas extensively, said the scheme’s “farcical” rules fall “woefully short” of international best practice.

Dr Joanna Howe says the scheme needs radical reform to prevent mistreatment of foreign workers, and lost job opportunities for Australians.
Dr Joanna Howe says the scheme needs radical reform to prevent mistreatment of foreign workers, and lost job opportunities for Australians.

“There’s a real disjuncture between the official goal of the 457 visa, which is to meet genuine skill shortages in the Australian labour market, and the way the regulatory framework is set up to address this,” Dr Howe told The New Daily.

The Labor Party ramped up its criticism of temporary worker (457) visas this week, arguing the scheme is putting Australians out of work, prompting a counter-attack by the Coalition government.

Before importing a foreign worker, the Immigration Department requires employers to show they’ve tested the domestic labour market and identified a shortage.

To satisfy this test, an employer need only prove that they have posted a single, unpaid advertisement on social media for an unspecified amount of time, Dr Howe said.

“It’s a system that can be easily evaded by unscrupulous employers because the Immigration Department doesn’t have the resources to properly assess whether employers’ conduct of labour market testing is genuine or whether it’s just a tick-the-box exercise.”

Many employers go above and beyond this requirement, but this is the minimum standard of proof, Dr Howe said.

Any of 651 skilled occupations can be filled by temporary workers, provided the employer has, at a minimum, posted a job ad on social media.

“It’s not a shortage list. It includes many occupations for which Australian graduates are struggling to find jobs,” Dr Howe said.

“It is quite ridiculous than an employer just has to find an occupation on that list and then prove they’ve tested the labour market with unpaid advertising on social media.”

The occupation list includes nurses, lawyers, primary and secondary school teachers, accountants, journalists and dentists, despite high numbers of Australian graduates in each of these fields.

Chefs, cafe managers, bakers and cooks can also be imported, so long as they are not employed in fast food or takeaway.

The list also allows for hairdressers, florists, gardeners, shearers, fire fighters, driving instructors, flight attendants and real estate agents. Even chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths and acupuncturists make the list.

Malaysian journalist Saiful Hasam went undercover to expose abuse of 457 visas for a joint ABC/Fairfax Media investigation. Photo: ABC
Malaysian journalist Saiful Hasam went undercover to expose abuse of 457 visas for a joint ABC/Fairfax Media investigation. Photo: ABC

Once imported, a foreign worker can live and work in Australia for up to four years, provided an employer continues to sponsor them.

A joint investigation by the ABC and Fairfax Media published this week exposed misuse of the scheme in parts of Australia’s fruit picking industry.

The Turnbull government’s response was to promise to deport foreign workers after 60 days, rather than the current 90 days, if they lose their job and cannot find other employment.

But Dr Howe said the current 90-day limit already puts the balance of power firmly in the sponsoring employer’s advantage, increasing the risk of underpayment and other forms of abuse.

Decreasing the deadline to 60 days would only attract more unscrupulous employers to the 457 visa system, knowing workers would be even less likely to protest at mistreatment, she said.

The legal expert criticised both the Labor government under Kevin Rudd for poorly legislating the scheme, and the Coalition government under Tony Abbott for “farcically implementing” it.

Dr Howe recommended the following reforms:

  • independent labour market testing to identify skill shortages;
  • a shortened list of eligible professions broken down by region;
  • regular updates to the list to account for market fluctuations.

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