Image: Rio Tinto.
BY ELIZABETH FABRI
THE Federal Government’s plan to abolish the 457 visa for foreign workers has already received strong support from mining industry officials, who remain hopeful a new scheme would safeguard Australian jobs and fill the void where skilled workers were currently needed.
On 18 April, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the Subclass 457 visa would be scrapped and replaced with a Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa with a reduced list of occupations, tighter criminal background checks, and higher standards for English language skills.
The TSS program would be split into two streams; a short term visa of up to two years, and a medium term visa for up to four years.
Mining occupations that made the list included construction project managers, engineers, environmental consultants, geologists, metal fitters and machinists, and occupational health and safety advisers.
Mr Turnbull said the new visa would also include strengthened training obligations for employers sponsoring foreign skilled workers to provide enhanced training outcomes for Australians in high-need industries and occupations.
“These changes will give Australian job seekers more opportunity to find work while finding the right balance so businesses can prosper by acquiring the expertise they need,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Implementation of the new visa will begin immediately, with full implementation to be completed by March 2018.”
Applications for 457 visas in the Australian resources industry had dropped from 6630 in 2011-12 and 2600 in 2013-14, to just 230 in 2016-17, according to Department of Immigration figures.
Australian Mines and Metals Association acting chief executive Tara Diamond said resources industry employers had welcomed the new TSS scheme, which would ensure the nation’s skilled migration systems were fit for the current economic climate.
“In this context, the replacement of the 457 visa program with a new temporary immigration program will help ensure skilled migrants, and the significant contribution they make to our nation, is no longer trivialised and leveraged for cheap political point-scoring,” Ms Diamond said.
“However, it should be recognised that the 457 visa program has worked as intended.
“The system was built to be responsive to changes in our economy and fluctuating labour demand, and has delivered on this objective.
“The resource industry is one sector that has seen a dramatic change in labour demand and skills availability in recent years.”
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane was also of the view, stating the natural resources sector was no longer a significant employer of the 457 visa holders.
“Those that are employed possess highly specialised skills and experience, particularly, university degrees,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“The QRC welcomes Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying we’ll only take the best and brightest from overseas.
“The total number of 457 visas given to workers in the mining industry in 2015/16 was a quarter of that of industries with health services and a fraction of the hospitality industry.”
Mr Macfarlane said 457 visa holders in the Queensland mining industry last financial year decreased by 26.5 percent and growing the skills base in communities was a great investment for companies and locals.
More information on the visa abolishment and list of jobs under the TSS scheme can be found at: www.border.gov.au/Trav/Work/457-abolition-replacement.