The federal government has reversed its stance on whether recruitment companies can be considered eligible to sponsor offshore labour, following a meeting with Australia's primary information technology recruitment industry association.
The government now claims its crackdown on the sector -- signalled by a Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) ruling that recruitment companies could no longer qualify as direct employers -- was designed only to target those contract-management companies who were trying to subvert visa regulations.
Had the original ruling -- reported by several media outlets and confirmed to ZDNet Australia late last month -- stood, several thousand imported information technology professionals working on 457 visas would have been affected.
At the time, a DIMIA spokeswoman said the department's interpretation of the regulation would forbid recruitment companies from qualifying as direct employers under the scheme.
"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, DIMIA's public affairs team has now denied ever making the statement, saying only that it was designed to stop contract-management companies abusing the regulations. It is understood that some companies were bringing migrants into the country before placing them in work as means of side-stepping Australian migration restrictions.
A spokesperson for the IT Consultant and Recruitment Association (ITCRA) said its membership "went ballistic" when they read media reports suggesting that recruitment companies were no longer eligible for 457 visas.
ITCRA vice president, Mike Weale, accused journalists of failing to check with ITCRA or DIMIA before publishing "misinformation" that was "peddled" by spokespeople for unnamed organisations.
Weale says the group's members have been the victims of a smear campaign.
"I am starting to question their motives for blatantly misinforming the readership and can only deduct that their objective is often nothing more than to besmirch the reputation of the recruitment industry or just to put out a mischievous story to [the] content-starved IT media sector," said Weale.
DIMIA's change of heart followed a meeting between a senior DIMIA official and ITCRA.
Recruitment companies have until 1 March next year to comply with DIMIA's new regulations preventing specialist management companies handling 457 visa applications on their behalf.