THE FEDERAL Government’s delay in addressing a key issue of the 457 visa scheme is causing overseas workers to give up on work in Australia, worsening the crisis faced in many skills-short industries such as health, resources and IT, according the Recruitment & Consulting Services Association (RCSA).
The latest review of the 457 scheme, announced recently by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Evans, is needed to maintain the integrity of the scheme, according to the RCSA.
“However we hope that it will not be an impediment to solving the current and very pressing issue of the on-hire labour agreement,” said Charles Cameron, policy adviser to the RCSA.
“The changes to the regulations have been in place for six months now, and that means six months of uncertainty, frustration and disappointment for the many hundreds of overseas workers who have been left in limbo, waiting for a solution.”
He said RCSA research indicates that over two-thirds of 457 workers are professionals and managers.
From 1 October 2007, changes to the immigration regulations mean that employers that hire directly are unable to sponsor 457 visas unless they have signed a labour agreement.
“To date, just three companies have had such agreements signed – or less than 1 per cent of the on-hire operators in the country – there are over 1,000 in Australia. However these companies are smaller in nature and are therefore more easily able to conform to the proposed labour agreement’s training and administrative obligations, which are strongly biased toward companies with smaller workforces,” Cameron said.
Many companies simply can’t meet some of the terms of the labour agreement, he said, while those that do are seeing their applications languish in an administrative black hole.
The RCSA called for an immediate reversal of the 1 October regulations, while a long-term solution can be worked out.
According to recruitment professionals, the impact of the delay is being felt at the frontline of skills-short industries. Bryan Suter, international recruiter for Nurse at Call, says the rural and remote clients he recruits for are at breaking point.
“Hospitals and aged care facilities in remote areas simply can’t get enough Australian nurses to work there, so international nurses are their only option. But since the 1 October changes, I’ve had 19 nurses give up on the prospect of coming here, opting for Europe and the United States instead,” he said.
“I have another four nurses whose visas run out before June, and while they’d be happy to renew them and stay in their critical nursing roles in remote Queensland, the government is telling them ‘no, you must go home’.”
A spokesperson for one of Australia’s major recruitment firms has had to inform over 100 candidates that their 457 visa applications aren’t able to go ahead and said Australia is now rapidly losing skilled workers to other countries.
“The firm recruited an experienced diesel mechanic from South Africa to work in regional Western Australia in mid 2007, but gave him some time to settle into the prospect of relocating to Australia – as a result he didn’t lodge his visa application immediately,” the spokesperson said.
“The policy change was then introduced without warning on 1 October, and we had to inform our skilled candidate, along with over 100 others, that he had missed out, as we’re simply not able to offer him sponsorship to Australia.”
Axial, a recruitment company specialising in engineering and trades, said many client employers lack the resources or infrastructure to directly sponsor 457 visas and rely on recruitment firms to provide the solution. They’re now unable to access any skilled workers from overseas, with both the companies and the candidates losing out.
“We have a diesel fitter from Zimbabwe – an excellent prospect with skills that are very transferable to Australia,” said Blaze Steszewski, an international recruiter for Axial.