Migration advisers to Australian businesses have hit back at accusations from Department of Immigration chief Michael Pezzullo that they made the 457 temporary visa a pathway to permanent residency.
The comments from Mr Pezzullo, made to Senate Estimates last week, are in contrast to past public statements made by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, supporting the 457 visa’s role in Australia's permanent migration pathways.
“The whole migration agent and lawyer sector, in effect, has — I will not say gamed the visa, but it has constructed the visa such that it is sold or marketed or put to clients as a proxy permanent pathway," Mr Pezzullo told Senate Estimates.
In 2015-16, more than four out of five workers granted an employer-nominated permanent visa were previously on 457 visas.
Jonathan Granger, National Vice President of the Migration Institute of Australia and Director of Granger Australia, told SBS World News that Mr Pezzullo’s statement "sullies the reputation of registered migration agents and lawyers in Australia".
Mr Granger said successive Australian Governments have promoted temporary to permanent visa pathways and structured the migration regulations accordingly.
In February last year, Prime Minister Turnbull backed the 457 visa's role in permanent migration in a joint press conference with then New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
And in 2013, then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said "that pathway from temporary to permanent, if managed well, has great opportunities for this country”.
Current Immigration Minister Peter Dutton declined to comment on the dispute.
Universities, startups and the corporate sector have been vocal in their complaints about the 457 reforms, arguing that their implementation has been rushed and will result in Australian organisations missing out on some of the world’s best talent.
Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Arthur Sinodinos, who has been meeting with some of those affected, told SBS World News “these are significant visa reforms and it’s important that there are no unintended consequences”.
"My office and department have been actively engaging with industry to ensure we understand industry concerns,” he said.
The 457 reforms, announced in April, barred hundreds of of occupations from the program and blocked the pathway to permanent residency for workers in many more.
Mr Pezzullo said Australian organisations can still use distinguished talent visas and labour agreements to recruit workers blocked from the 457 scheme.