Australia to abolish 457 immigration work visa

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced plans to replace the existing foreign workers visa with one that better suits 'Australian values' and targets the country's skills shortage from the inside.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that he will be abolishing the existing 457 visa, which is currently used by temporary foreign workers to gain employment in the country.

In a video shared online, Turnbull said the 457 visa will be replaced by a new visa that he said was specifically designed to recruit the "best and brightest" overseas talent, as long as it is in the best interests of Australia. The new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa will be introduced in March 2018.

"Australia is the most successful multicultural nation in the world -- we are an immigration nation," Turnbull said. "But the fact remains, Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs."

Turnbull explained that the move is about ensuring jobs are filled by "Australians" and putting Australians first.

"We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians," he said.

In place of the 457 visa will be a temporary visa that the prime minister expects will better target genuine skills shortages, including in regional Australia.

The visa will include new requirements, such as previous work experience, better English language proficiency, and labour market testing, he explained.

In a bid to help train Australians to fill skills gaps in industries that previously turned to overseas talent, the federal government will also be establishing a training fund.

"I'll have more to say about all this in coming days and weeks, but our reforms will have a simple focus: Australian jobs and Australian values," the prime minister's video concludes.

At the beginning of 2016, the government kicked off the consultation process for what was then referred to as the Entrepreneur Visa, an initiative announced as part of the federal government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda to allow those from overseas to live and work among Australia's tech industry.

The consultation process and accompanying discussion paper was expected to tackle concerns including individual nomination procedure, third-party backing, length of stay, visa extension length, and whether the individual should be given permanent residency if their innovations prove to be a success.

"It is critical for Australia's prosperity and growth that we not only tap into the best entrepreneurial minds in Australia, but we also make it easier for talent from overseas to contribute to this country's innovative future," former Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne said at the time.

"We are also keen to retain those educated and talented people who have come to Australia and developed their knowledge base during their time in this country."

In a report published last year by StartupAUS titled Economy in Transition: Startups, innovation and a workforce for the future, the startup advocacy group highlighted that 16 of the 20 most in-demand skills in Australia were technology related, and workers with a mix of entrepreneurial, STEM, creative, and social skills will be in increasingly high demand to support the core of Australia's required workforce.

Despite this need, StartupAUS CEO Alex McCauley said Australia has a profound talent shortage within the STEM field, and suggested combating the shortage by harnessing "specialised immigration", pointing to the fact that around 70 percent of Silicon Valley software developers are foreign-born.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-CEO and co-founder of startup darling Atlassian -- which went public in the US in December 2015 -- also said previously that the biggest challenge the nation is facing is its lack of talent.

However, Cannon-Brookes believes bringing in overseas talent while Australia waits for its own students to be trained up is crucial.

"We've got to be importing a lot of technical talent," he said. "We've got a lot of very talented engineers here. We always say at Atlassian that we don't have any experienced engineers.

"We're here as a business learning everything ... it's painful to just constantly be running through walls, so we've got to bring in as much overseas talent as we can -- and you know what, our lifestyle's pretty good here so they generally stay, they pay taxes for a long time, they have kids."

Tim Parker, CEO of Australian digital service provider Gruden, also feels that the country is lagging on the tech talent front, and said he hopes the new visa arrangements announced on Tuesday will recognise that.

"As a technology company, Gruden has been heavily dependent on 457 visas to provide the top quality, qualified talent we need to deliver digital transformation to our clients," Parker said.

"With a number of our staff on such visas, we applaud the grandfathering of existing 457s, as we do the intent to provide training to nurture local talent. However, given that many countries have been teaching coding in kindergarten for a decade or more, Australia is well behind in the tech talent stakes."

With federal, state, and local governments on his company's books since 2002, Parker said his company will continue to look to imported talent in the short term, otherwise the imperative to offshore Gruden's software development could increase at the expense of the local economy.

The United States also recently introduced prospective changes to the country's H-1B visa, a non-immigrant visa allowing US organisations to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations.

The Keeping American Jobs Act was first introduced in Congress in February 2016 under the Obama administration, with Democrat Derek Kilmer and Republican Doug Collins commenting at the time that they "can't allow the law to be exploited to displace American workers and send their jobs abroad".

The latest Bill re-introduced last month essentially aims to choke off the undermining of American tech workers by foreign ones; however, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced earlier in May that there would be no changes to the H-1B "skilled worker" visas this year.

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