The Truth: Our Love/Hate Relationship with 457 Visas

‘They’re stealing our jobs,’ has become the famous rhetoric of our population’s dialogue and it’s easy to see why.

They’re our police officers, dentists and lawyers. They’re our emergency services, engineers and firefighters. They’re our tailors, managers and labourers. They’re even those telemarketers we’re all guilty of hanging up the phone on. What all these people have in common, is that they are 457 Visa holders, and they are at risk of losing their jobs and homes due to the government’s recent reforms.

457 Visas were introduced by the Howard Government in 1996 and were four year visas for jobs in over 650 occupations; even if fields were oversupplied or in demand. Family members of visa holders also could settle in Australia on 457 secondary visas.

The Turnbull Government is cutting 200 occupations from the acceptance list, along with cutting the visa length in half from four to two years. Applicants will also have to complete a criminal history check as well as tests to prove their English proficiency. The age limit for applicants will also drop to 45, from previous 50. Visas will be able to be renewed for another two years and highly skilled applicants may apply for the original four years.

With unemployment on the rise and it being harder than ever for Australians to get a job, many see this change as a positive. Currently, 5.9% of the population are unemployed, with over 1.2 million looking for work and another million saying they’re ‘underemployed.’ ‘They’re stealing our jobs,’ has become the famous rhetoric of our population’s dialogue and it’s easy to see why. Giving jobs to outside workers can’t be good for working Australians.

However, these changes will affect Australian businesses and our economy. The fee to bring in temporary, skilled foreign workers is being increased, with the application alone costing $1,150 for two-year visas and $2,400 for four. The Government has said that training for local workers will be funded by this increase.

The later demonstrates the true issue for Australian workers, especially the young and unskilled. If big businesses have to pay more for their ‘cheap labour,’ they are probably going to stop hiring foreigners. Sure this means there will be more jobs available for locals but where will the money be to train people for these jobs? The real problem for Australians entering the workforce is not outside our borders but within; the Government is not investing in our development and instead of profiting from offshore workers.

It is more expensive than ever to be trained and educated, whether it be a diploma or a master’s degree and the people making the decisions about these costs probably went to university for free. This year’s budget is proposing a $2.8 billion dollar cut to higher education, with students expected to start paying their HECS back once earning $42,000 in comparison to previous $55,000.

The cost of education reflects the true problem for unemployed Australians today. The problem is not 457 visas, nor businesses bringing in cheap, temporary workers. The greater issue for Australians is they are not getting the investment they need to be able to compete with skilled workers from abroad. How can we expect businesses to hire and develop local labour when there is no incentive from the government or for their business to do so? It simply makes sense to hire someone more experienced, that’s just smart business.

If the price of higher education continues to rise the way it is, we can’t expect Australians to get more skilled. It will inevitably reach a point where the majority of Australians won’t be able to afford the training they need to compete with foreign skilled workers. If this is the case, businesses will have no choice than to hire people from overseas no matter what the visa reform. The real issue at hand is not skilled immigrants but our inability to compete with them due to lack of investment from our Government. If we want to be able to compete, more money must be budgeted to educating the population. Maybe the honest reality for working Australians is not foreigners stealing our jobs, but our own government.

Words by Jessika Swarbrick

Art by Kerrie O’james

One thought on “The Truth: Our Love/Hate Relationship with 457 Visas

  1. This is sort of right but sort of not.

    Many 457 visas do work in high skilled industries where it is cheaper to get someone from overseas than train an Australian.

    But if that is the situation the increased fees aren’t going to make a difference when the salary packaging including super could be over 90K. The issue is where the qualification or pathway doesn’t exist in Australia.

    As for the tosh about rising university costs locking people out of education, deferred HELP loans and the lack of a price signal make a mockery of this claim every time it is made. If you do an Arts degree (a degree that is not likely to bring you into competition with high skilled 457 workers) you are paying an extra 800 over the entire degree, deferred.

    Real issues exist around the quality of training and the work readiness of graduates. Are our universities producing graduates with the skills industry need? If not, which is probably the case given the high number of 457 visas required, why not? Is it a lack of funding or a lack of a relationship between the saleability of a degree to consumers and the graduate outcomes those degrees produce? Is industry failing to engage with tertiary education providers to ensure that institutions are aware of what industry needs?

    Additionally, the consistent focus on University education comes at the cost of real and empowered vocational skills education. Are we continuing to update the courses we offer as vocational courses or are we making it too easy for students to do a three year arts or business degree, come out with no skills but some general virtues and flounder about in the workplace blaming the government?

    You tell me

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