Following the Federal Government’s announcement that it would be cracking down on the number of 457 visa approvals – amid a so-called blowout in foreign workers – the immigration department has pointed to figures which it says justifies the crackdown.
According to government records, the immigration department recorded a 21% increase in the number of foreign skilled visa holders in February, compared to the same time in 2012.
Yet the figures revealed in the Immigration Department report also show the number of visas approvals has been on "a general downward trend" since peaking last August. Further, the report reveals the number of visas granted this financial year to the end of February was just 4.8% higher than the same period a year earlier.
Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor cited the 21% rise in the total number of visa holders, however, commenting that the figure is higher than any increase in the employment rate and underlines the need to tighten the system of approvals. “The 457 increase continues... which completely and utterly underlines the need to bring about the reforms so that the 457 visa is used for the purposes it was constructed - which of course is to fill temporary shortages,” O’Connor told News Limited. “I say to those naysayers and critics of the reforms that there is clear evidence that the increase in 457s is running much faster than the employment rate.”
Prime Minister Julia Gillard also weighed in on the campaign to crackdown on the use of 457 visas, and in western Sydney last month commented that the visa program was "out of control", adding that jobs should be given to Australians first.
Yet peak business group the Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) vehemently disagrees, and chief executive Innes Willox said the latest figures in fact show that the system is working. “These latest figures to us just demonstrate that this is a system that is working, that is flexible, that is moving around," Willox said. “It does move around from month to month, and just to pick out one month is slightly misleading,” he added. Willox also pointed to the fact that unions have been using 457 visas to fill skill gaps. “That makes you realise that we do have a low unemployment rate in Australia, we do have skill shortages in quite specific areas and in quite specific regions,” he said.