Experts have slammed Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s plans to shorten the amount of time that skilled migrants on 457 visas can spend between jobs – migrants now have just 60 days to find a new job, down from 90.
The change will mean visa-holders will be less likely to leave a position to search for a new job if they are being underpaid or mistreated, two migration experts told SBS.
“It’s the sort of decision that makes you lose faith in the ability of politicians to make good public policy,” says Doctor Chris F Wright from the University of Sydney.
If migrant workers are pushed to accept lower wages with worse conditions, it will undercut the wages of locals competing for the same jobs, he says.
“The minister’s justifications go against exactly what needs to happen – it’s completely muddle-headed."
Minister Dutton said the changes, which came into effect last Saturday, are intended to prevent migrants from taking jobs from locals.
Currently, there are approximately 95,000 migrants in Australia on the program, many accompanied by their families.
“The government values the contribution made by the many skilled persons who work in Australia on 457 visas, but where there is an Australian worker ready, willing and able to perform a role it is the government's policy that they have priority,” Minister Dutton said last week.
Doctor Joanna Howe from the University of Adelaide says the explanation for the change doesn’t hold up.
“It won’t help Australian workers access jobs, but it will increase the vulnerability of workers under the scheme,” she tells SBS.
“It gives them very little job security and means they basically have no redress to worker protection regulations because 60 days is not long enough to follow up on unfair dismissal laws or other avenues of redress,” she says.
Dr Wright agrees.
“If anything, it’s going to make it harder for Australian workers to compete,” he says.
Numerous employers have been reported for abuses of 457 visa holders, including underpayment and pushing workers to do jobs they didn’t sign up for.
“They’re a migration sponsor as well as an employer, and those two hats they wear mean they have a lot of power over the individual visa holder,” Doctor Howe says.
Earlier this year, a company in Darwin was fined almost half a million dollars for underpaying employees on 457 visas and forcing them to repay parts of their salary.
A Filipino 457 employee told a Senate inquiry she was forced to pay $250 a week for accommodation which crammed six workers into one bedroom.
“They will know that if they complain about visas or employment they will suddenly only have 60-days to find new work, which is difficult enough even for local employees,” Doctor Howe says.
In his statement last week, Minister Dutton criticised the previous Labor government for raising the time-limit from 28 to 90 days.
That move came five years after a 2008 government report which recommended an increase to 90 days to limit abuse.
“There’s no comprehensive study that’s taken place since then, so we don’t know for sure the impact of the 90-day policy, but it does seem that reports of mistreatment of 457 visa holders have decreased," Dr Wright said.
Both Dr Howe and Dr Wright said there were other issues with the 457 visa program, including the eligible occupations list and the employer-employee relationship.
SBS put the comments to Minister Dutton’s office, but did not receive a response before publication.