Companies would be allowed to bring employees to Australia for up to a year without applying for 457 skilled worker visas under a migration-rule revamp being considered by the government.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is proposing a new temporary entry visa for foreign workers that would not require the candidates to pass language or skills requirements. Nor would employers have to prove they cannot find an Australian to fill the position.
The proposed “short-term mobility” subclass of visas would be available for “specialised work which may include intra-company transfers and foreign correspondents”, says a proposal paper obtained byThe Australian Financial Review.
Fly-in, fly-out commuters, global partners or specialists who need to provide short periods of work or consultation to a company would be covered. The visa would allow for multiple entries.
The paper is part of a review announced in October and billed by the Abbott government as the biggest re-examination of skilled migration in 25 years. The government wants to cut red tape and give companies more flexibility to grow and compete for talent. But the changes would upset unions, which are mostly hostile to foreign labour.
Skilled migration researcher Bob Birrell said the government would be picking a big fight with white-collar unions and professional groups by allowing global companies greater scope to bring people in for short-term appointments.
“There are already significant problems with graduate employment in professions such as dentistry, computer science, medicine and engineering,” he said.
“Liberalisation such that being mooted is going to crash head-on with that situation. The government is going to have some angry professional associations on its hands.”
A short-term mobility category would replace the existing category 400 visa, which allows skilled or specialist entrants to work for up to six weeks.
There were 4587 visas of this type granted when it was first offered in 2012-13. That jumped to 32,984 in 2013-14. Applicants are concentrated in mining, manufacturing, construction and education.
Employer groups have been pushing for a less onerous visa than the 457 to allow them to bring in specialists for shorter-term projects. They say the six weeks offered under the 400 visa is too short and the department often redirects applicants to 457 visas.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said with unemployment at a 12-year-high of 6.3 per cent, the focus should be on employing and training locals.
“The review of Australia’s skilled migration system must strengthen requirements for employers to advertise jobs locally before recruiting workers from overseas, not make it easier for companies to bypass Australian workers, university graduates and apprentices,” she said.
Mark Glazbrook, the managing director of Adelaide-based Migration Solutions, said the extended mobility visa would be eagerly welcomed. “The current policy settings and regulations are quite strict and don’t allow a lot of flexibility where there’s very specialised or unique work to be done,” he said.
“If you consider a big international- based company with Australian operations, if they have a specialised piece of equipment that’s in Australia and no one knows how to install it, they want to be able to bring someone, possibly on multiple occasions, on a genuinely temporary basis.”
The existing employer-sponsored 457 visa would be absorbed into a new “temporary-skilled” category, according to the proposal paper. It would continue to require candidates to meet English language, skills and labour market tests.
There would also be “permanent-independent” and “permanent-skilled” subclasses.
The “permanent-independent” subclass would be for “highly skilled individuals to independently apply for permanent residence to work in Australia”. It would replace existing distinguished talent visas.
Applicants in the permanent-skilled category would have to prove they are filling a genuine vacancy in the local labour market. This category would subsume the existing 186 and 187 visas.
“Competition for migrants amongst growth countries such as China and India, as well as our traditional competitors, will require that our skilled programs are no longer designed to passively receive migrants, but are designed to aggressively target ‘talented’ migrants in a highly competitive environment,” the paper says.
Australian Mines and Metals Association director Scott Barklamb said Australia would benefit from “mobile, highly skilled professionals who temporarily live and work where their specialised skills are most in need”. “Australians working in the resource sector often have opportunities to work and live temporarily all over the world and the Australian industry must similarly benefit from global engagement.”
In a submission to the government, Master Builders Australia said: “Some projects are shorter duration – for example three months – and going through the time-consuming and costly process of applying and securing 457 visa holders is not flexible enough.”
The “genuine-temporary-entrant” test that has been applied to student visas would be used for the short-term mobility subclass to prevent rorting.
The short-term mobility subclass would include a visa valid for three months or a year. Candidates for the shorter visa could be bought in at the invitation of an Australian company.
For the visa to be valid for up to 12 months, candidates would require a “statement of guarantee or undertaking from the Australian organisation detailing salary and any employment conditions reflective of the Australian standard for the duration of the stay must be provided”.
There is also a review of the integrity of the 457 visa system, the significant investor visa program and an inquiry into the Business Innovation and Investment Program.
The government said it would be premature to comment during the consultation period. A spokesman said the proposal paper was drafted by the department, not the government.
Dr Birrell said: “The main proposal is to free up temporary migration by creating a new set of visa subclasses for people coming in for less than a year,” he said.
“The implication is that this would not include the rules and regulations currently governing the 457 visa, including some labour market testing.”
By Joanna Mather