Australia's government is on a collision course with recruitment companies over recent tightening of rules for issuing the employer-sponsored 457 visas held by thousands of imported IT professionals.
The Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) has opted under new powers granted to it in October to enforce regulations disqualifying third parties from sponsoring overseas workers on behalf of employers.
DIMIA has reportedly advised the IT Contractors and Recruitment Association that its members must comply with the regulation -- which has been in place since 1997 -- within 90 days from 1 November 2003.
However, it appears that some IT recruitment companies have taken a position on the regulations which is at odds with DIMIA's official stance on the matter.
A spokeswoman for the department told ZDNet Australia that DIMIA's interpretation of the regulation forbids recruitment companies from acting as employers in order to recruit labour offshore.
"If these people are being sponsored in any way they have to be sponsored by the employer, not by the recruitment companies," said the spokeswoman.
However, according to Candle Recruitment commercial manager, Jonathan Naiman, DIMIA is reinterpreting its regulations to stamp out activities of unscrupulous contract management firms and are not trying to affect sponsoring by recruitment companies.
"We have regular communications with [DIMIA] and they have said that for recruitment companies they understand that's the way labour works and that was not an issue. The only issue was when the recruitment company outsourced those functions to a management company, not the practice of sponsoring," said Naiman.
Global recruitment firm TMP Hudson has admitted that some of its contractors have been impacted by recent changes to 457 visa regulations but appears not to have reached a conclusion on how to comply with the regulations.
"We are currently working with our external immigration advisors and the contract management companies, with whom we have relationships, to ensure that we comply with the changed regulations," said a spokesperson for TMP.
Australian Computer Society (ACS) president Richard Hogg said DIMIA was simply enforcing existing rules with more vigour, and it has given the government its full support.
Moreover, the ACS believes that the concerns of ITCRA, which has asked to meet with DIMIA in December to discuss the economic impact of the changes, are unfounded.
"We don't accept that there has been a change, so no transition should be necessary unless companies have been operating outside the rules," said Hogg in a statement.
"We are fully supportive of any moves by DIMIA to more closely monitor 457 visas and rigorously apply the rules and don't believe anyone should be allowed to flout them, particularly since doing so disadvantages Australia's own ICT professionals".
ZDNet Australia's Andrew Colley reported from Sydney.