Alarm over 457 visa abuses inflated: migration adviser
May 13, 2013
Australian, Page: 2
By David Crowe
Monday, 13 May 2013
NATIONAL AFFAIRS EDITOR ONE of the federal government’s top migration advisers has backed a landmark finding that only a "small proportion" of employers are abusing the skilled worker program in another blow to Labor claims of widespread rorting.
The chairman of the ministerial advisory council on skilled migration, Michael Easson, warned against "unhealthy rhetoric" in the debate over the 457 visa program and cited the new research to reject claims the scheme was out of control.
As Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor cited the report as proof of the problems he wanted to stamp out, business leaders said it refuted the "weak and misleading" claims being made against the program. There are about 105,000 skilled foreign workers in Australia on 457 visas, but union leaders have long argued for stricter controls on the program and Mr O’Connor announced a "crackdown on rorts" in February.
Julia Gillard declared in March that Labor had inherited a skilled visa program that was "out of control" and Mr O’Connor claimed last month there were 10,000 illegitimate visas.
Some of the alarm over the scheme is countered in a 70-page report from the Migration Council of Australia that finds only 2 per cent of the workers are employed below the mandated annual salary of $51,400. Even so, the government argued yesterday the research showed the urgent need for reform in part because 25 per cent of workers would not reveal their salaries.
"The research shows that 15 per cent of employers who use 457s say they would have had no difficulty hiring employees from the local labour market," said a spokeswoman for Mr O’Connor.
"This result accords with the scale of illegitimate use the government has extrapolated from the data. This is exactly the kind of illegitimate use of 457s we are trying to stamp out." The government also noted that 7 per cent of 457 workers said their working conditions were worse than those of their Australian colleagues and 5 per cent said their employers were not meeting their obligations under the scheme. Mr Easson argued, however, that the report supported minor improvements rather than massive change. "The current debate on the program is healthy because it calls attention to what has been one of the most remarkable changes in immigration policy and practice since the war," he told The Australian.
"But what has been unhealthy has been some of the rhetoric and suggestions the program is out of control. It isn’t." Mr Easson said the report showed relatively few problems. "At most there’s a 3 to 4 per cent highlighting of problems of various kinds, all within the margin of what could be expected with a major program," Mr Easson said.
"We need to keep nailing down the loose planks, not ripping up the floorboards." Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the report’s conclusions were far from the "vastly inflated claims of systemic rorting" but employers who did the wrong thing should face sanctions.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said there was no need for excessive change. "This survey evidence provides little support for claims that the program needs a major revision, but some evidence that fine-tuning is needed," said ACCI director of employment and training Jenny Lambert.