1.1.6 Temporary residents
- Further Australia’s economic, social, cultural and international relations in the context of a more mobile global workforce.
Skilled long-term temporary residents make a major contribution to Australia. By filling specific skill gaps in Australian businesses, they help Australia to remain a strong competitor in the international market. Skilled long-term temporary residents also bring with them new ideas, international contacts, access to cutting edge technologies and business practices.Many are also helping businesses to train their Australian staff. It is anticipated that demand for the programme will continue to grow while Australia’s economy remains strong and Australia’s population continues to age.
The Temporary Business (Long Stay) subclass 457 programme allows businesses to respond quickly to skill gaps by sponsoring skilled workers to work in management, professional and skilled tradesperson positions.
Demand continues to be strong for information technology and health professionals and for senior management roles. In 2006-07, the top five occupational groups nominated by employers were computing professionals (7.6 per cent); registered nurses (6.4 per cent); general medical practitioners (3.5 per cent); business and information professionals (3.3 per cent); and medical practitioners in training (2.8 per cent).
There was also notable growth in sponsorship of overseas workers in the electronic and electrical engineering fields, surgeons, software designers, drillers and specialist physicians.
The skill focus of the programme is reinforced by minimum salary requirements. In May 2006, minimum salary requirements were increased to $41 850 for general occupations and $57 300 for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) occupations.
In July 2006, a new minimum salary requirement was introduced for regionally-certified positions set at a concessional 90 per cent of the minimum salary requirement. Since 1 July 2006, all minimum salary requirements have been calculated based on a 38-hour week. In 2006-07, the average nominated salary under the programme was more than $74 000.
Supporting regional needs
The subclass 457 programme allows employers based outside the metropolitan centres of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong, Melbourne and Perth to nominate a broader range of occupations at lower salary levels, subject to certification by a regional body endorsed by the state or territory government. These arrangements and the regional minimum salary level recognise the unique needs of employers in regional Australia.
Review of the subclass 457 programme
In July 2006, the Council of Australian Governments initiated a review of temporary business entry arrangements to identify and implement cooperative measures to ensure the effectiveness, fairness and integrity of the arrangements, including appropriate and consistent minimum standards. Broad consultations, through the Commonwealth/State Working Party on Skilled Migration, were held in 2006-07, involving federal and state/territory agencies, key industry bodies and unions.
The Joint Standing Committee on Migration started an inquiry into eligibility requirements and monitoring, enforcement and reporting arrangements for temporary business visas. The department provided a submission to this inquiry in February, 2007.
In April 2007 the minister announced an English language requirement to apply from July 2007 to ensure overseas workers are able to respond to occupational health and safety risks as well as raise any concerns about their welfare with appropriate authorities.
He also announced that a formal fast tracking arrangement would be implemented to assist employers with a strong and demonstrated record of complying with the subclass 457 programme to access the skilled workers they need more quickly. This arrangement is being developed.
A working group was announced by the minister in May 2007 to examine the skill needs and appropriateness of the subclass 457 visa across all occupations in the trucking industry. The group includes representatives from academia, relevant government agencies and the trucking industry and is expected to report to the minister in late 2007.
Robust integrity measures
In 2006-07, there were 6463 business sponsors monitored to assess their compliance with sponsorship undertakings and commitments made on their application. Of these, 26 per cent were visited onsite based on targeted risk profiling.
There continues to be an overall, high level of business sponsor compliance with sponsorship undertakings. However, in response to allegations of abuse of the subclass 457 programme and issues emerging from the department’s own monitoring in 2006-07, a more targeted, risk-based approach was developed and implemented.
This approach focused on the high risk areas of the caseload and resulted in a significantly higher number of identified breaches. During the year 313 sponsors were formally warned and 95 sponsors had a bar imposed on sponsoring further workers, including 14 who had their sponsorship agreement cancelled. During 2006-07 there were 15 410 sponsors who were employing primary holders of subclass 457 visas of whom 11 247 had at least one employee granted a subclass 457 visa during the year. This latter group is a particular area of focus for departmental monitoring.
In response to alleged breaches by business sponsors, appropriate investigations, with workplace relations and law enforcement agencies, were undertaken. These matters were raised by employee bodies, members of the public and visa holders themselves.
In June 2007, the minister introduced legislation in parliament to strengthen the obligations of sponsors who employ subclass 457 visa holders. If passed, the legislation will provide for sanctions and financial penalties to be imposed on those employers who fail to comply with their obligations. Failure to comply with these obligations could result in a civil penalty being imposed together with the cancellation of a sponsor’s access to the subclass 457 visa programme. Offences include failure to pay the minimum salary level, using workers in unskilled jobs and failure to pay certain costs such as public health and return travel costs for sponsored employees.
Departmental inspectors will be given stronger powers to enforce employer compliance, including the power to conduct unannounced audits of employers and their premises. Sponsors can also be obliged to produce documents and failure to do so could result in imprisonment of up to six months.
Labour agreements are negotiated between the Australian Government, represented by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR), employers and other interested parties to recruit overseas skilled workers. Both temporary and permanent visas can be granted under the agreements, which are generally in effect for two to three years. The government has over 50 labour agreements in place.
In response to a significant shortage of skilled workers in the meat industry, the department negotiated with DEWR, state and territory governments and the meat industry to provide access to a labour agreement. Meat industry labour agreements are available to companies in Queensland and Western Australia.
A pathway to permanent residence
The subclass 457 programme provides a pathway for skilled workers to apply for permanent residence at the completion of their nominated role. In 2006-07, some 19 170 permanent residence visas were granted to people who last held a subclass 457 visa. The majority of them (some 80 per cent) applied for permanent entry under the Employer Nomination Scheme, Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, Labour Agreement or Skilled Independent visa programmes.
More than 75 per cent of sponsorship, nomination and visa applications were lodged online in 2006-07 by Australian businesses and skilled workers. Of the number of subclass 457 visas granted, more than 80 per cent were lodged electronically.