SBS, Presented by
Ana Solomon

30 Dec 2016 - 9:31 AM  UPDATED 2 Jan 2017 - 2:38 PM

What is a 457 visa?

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.

What skills are eligible?

The 457 program uses the the Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List (CSOL) to determine eligibility.

More than 600 positions are listed. 

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

Unlike the permanent skilled migration program, which is based on a shorter, demand-driven list, the 457 occupations list is very broad.

The Productivity Commission has recommended both the permanent and temporary programs use the same, shorter list, which should be limited to skills in high-demand. 

What jobs are most popular?

While 457 visa holders are spread across a diverse range of industries, hospitality is the most popular with 16 per cent.

The ICT sector, professional, scientific and technical roles, healthcare and social assistance roles also employ a large amount of 457 visa holders, as does the construction industry. 

How much are visa holders paid?

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, is $94,200.

Hospitality workers are paid, on average, $58,800 per year, while visa holders in mining are paid an average of $218,200 and those in finance or insurance are paid an average of $128,800.

The high average wages are reflective of the skilled nature of the eligible positions.

How many people use the visa?

As of June 2016 there were roughly 95,000 temporary skilled migrants in Australia under the 457 visa program.

Many of them will have brought partners or children with them, which might come close to doubling that number.

Of nearly 12 million workers in Australia, 457 migrants account for less than 1 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?

India supplies 25 per cent of 457 visa holders, followed by the UK with 17 per cent.

China and the United States each supply 6 per cent and the Philippines, Ireland, Italy and France are also well represented.

Why are 457s so controversial?

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 News previously.

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.

The Productivity Commission has recommended the expansive list of eligible occupations be reduced to a more tightly-targeted list of high-demand occupations.

“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 News.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton recently reduced the amount of time 457 visa holders may spend between jobs before being asked to return home, down from 90 days to 60 days.

While Mr Dutton said this was to give Australians a better chance of competing for jobs, experts have criticised the decision, saying it will actually do the opposite.

With less time to find new work, visa holders will be willing to work for less and more likely to put up with exploitative conditions they said.

“The minister’s justifications go against exactly what needs to happen," Dr Wright said.