The controversy around 457 visas

2 Dec 2016 - 12:35 PM  UPDATED 17 Aug - 5:03 PM
What is a 457 visa?
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The 457 visa was introduced in 1996 and allows skilled workers to be employed in Australia for up to four years.

The visas are designed to be used to fill positions that cannot be filled by local workers.

Applicants must be sponsored by a local business for a specific job, relevant to their skillset.

Applicants may bring partners and children under the visa.

Hasn't the 457 visa been abolished though?
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The government announced in April 2017 that it would formally cease the 457 program by March 2018.

In its place, the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa will be made available.

The major change is to cut the number of eligible occupations for a four-year visa down from more than 600 to approximately 200.

Workers in approximately 200 additional occupations on a short-term needs list have been made eligible for a two-year visa without a pathway to permanent residency.

The occupations on these lists will be tweaked every six months.

The new restrictions already apply to new visa applications; however, existing 457 visas continue to remain in effect.

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What skills are eligible?
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The 457/TSS program uses the Medium and Long-Term Strategic Skills List (MLTSSL) and the Short-Term Skilled Occupation List (STSOL) to determine eligibility.

Jobs range from accountants to engineers, vets to florists, and plumbers to journalists.

The same occupation list is used for the 457/TSS scheme and the Employer Nominated Scheme (subclass 186) permanent visa.

The change followed a Productivity Commission recommendation that both the permanent and temporary programs use the same, shorter list, limited to skills in high demand. 

What jobs are most popular?
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Cooks, cafe and restaurant managers, and chefs - all part of the accommodation and food sector - were the most popular occupations in the programme, with around 14,000 such workers in Australia at the end of 2016.

In the second half of 2016, there were more 457 visas granted in both the professional, scientific and technical industry, and IT industry than there were in the accommodation and food sectors overall.

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How much are visa holders paid?
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Laws mandate that employers pay 457 visa holders comparable wages to those who are employed locally, and there's a minimum salary of $53,000 if a business wants to use the visa.

The total average remuneration, including superannuation, was $88,100 in 2016.

Hospitality workers are paid, on average, $57,600 per year, while visa holders in mining are paid an average of $166,000 and those in finance or insurance are paid an average of $115,100.

How many people use the visa?
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As of December 2016 there were roughly 81,000 temporary skilled migrants in Australia under the 457 visa program.

Many of them will have brought partners or children with them.

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457 visa changes a win for universities, medical research and horse trainers
Dozens of occupations have been handed back a pathway to permanent residency through the 457 visa scheme.

Of nearly 12 million workers in Australia, 457 migrants account for less than one per cent.

Other popular temporary work visas offered by the government include New Zealand visas, student visas, temporary graduate visas and working holiday visas.

Where are visa holders coming from?
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India supplies one fifth of 457 visa holders with approximately 16,000, followed closely by the UK with 15,000.

China, the Phillipines, Ireland, the United States are the next largest source countries.

Why are 457s so controversial?
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The 457 visa has attracted criticism for a number of reasons.

Workers have complained businesses have fired local staff and replaced them with cheaper 457 visa holders.

Legislation mandates that employers pay temporary migrants the same wages as locally hired staff.

However, employers may find they can exercise more control over migrant workers, who are dependent on the employer to stay in the country.

“It’s one of the key reasons that workers are able to be exploited," Dr Chris F Wright, an employment expert from the University of Sydney, told SBS World News previously.

Related reading
Criticism and confusion inside government over 457 changes
Frank comments by an Immigration Department official highlight ongoing challenges prompted by this year's snap 457 reforms for both industry and government.
How the 457 visa reforms overlooked the cheapest foreign workers
The government will maintain the salary freeze for the lowest paid workers on 457 visas, but migration experts argue it undermines the 'skilled' component of the visa.

There have been a number of high-profile cases of employer abuse under the system, including sub-standard accommodation and forcing employees to repay parts of their salary.

There have been calls for greater transparency around the scheme.

“It reduces the xenophobia and racism around the allegations around migrant workers stealing local workers' jobs if it’s a more transparent process," Dr Joanna Howe, a expert in the 457 visa scheme at the University of Adelaide, told SBS World News.