While the Turnbull government’s recent announcement that they are axing the 457 Visa program has federal officials calling it a victory for Australian workers, Associate Professor Mohan Thite of the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing believes the decision is short-sighted.
“Cracking a whip to make sure businesses only hire locals is more of a political statement than a pragmatic one because it assumes employers want to hire overseas workers rather than locals, which is simply not true,” said Thite.
“If I’m an employer I would much rather have a local person if they meet all my requirements because it’s so much less of a headache for me. If I’m hiring an engineer, a doctor or an IT manager from India or China, all their personal problems become my personal problems. Are they going to get their visa? Do they understand the language? Do they have family issues settling down in Australia?”
According to Thite, employers seek out foreign workers for their positions when there simply is not enough high skilled supply for their demand. This can especially be seen in the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) which has seen a dramatic growth over the last decade, with countries like India and China leading the way when it comes to supplying skilled labour options.
“Demand is growing at the same time the supply is shrinking because of the ageing population and lack of interest to go into the field,” Mohan said.
“The skills you acquire today will become redundant in 3-4 years time, so the extremely dynamic nature of the field makes it complex in terms of forecasting the manpower requirements.”
“Companies like Google and Facebook have always been saying that for an innovation-led economy we need critical skills, and those skills change very rapidly and therefore no one country can provide these skills. Therefore, we need the flexibility to hire foreign workers as we need.”
Associate Professor Thite believes the foreign worker debate has become more of a political football, where the facts are being buried behind the rhetoric.
“If you look at the statistics today the average wage of a foreign worker on the 457 visa is 90-thousand dollars, so by no means can you claim they are being hired to be paid lower wages,” Thite said.
“If you look at this list of people, most of them are professionals. They are managers, they are in IT and information media, they are in health services, they are doctors, nurses… they are not goat keepers.”
What’s more, putting heavier restrictions on companies who choose to employ foreign workers may lead them elsewhere.
“If you make the regime too tight and make the life of the businesses too difficult what will happen is that these jobs are just going to go overseas,” Thite said.
“It’s global by nature, it’s extremely dynamic, and any wrong-footedness in this area can cause serious damage to the innovative capability of the countries concerned.”
According to the Federal government, the 457 visa program will be replaced by a new Temporary Skill Shortage Visa. The new scheme sees the list of eligible jobs shortened by more than 200 for both the two and four-year options. The new program will also require a stricter English language requirement, previous job experience, and a criminal record check.