12 February 2007

457 visa use increases along with concerns

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More and more Australian companies are solving skills shortages by hiring workers on temporary 457 visas, fuelling concern that more of them may be exploiting overseas workers at the same time.

The 457 visa programme, a work permit scheme, saw a 17 per cent increase in the number of visas awarded in the six months to December 31, 2006, compared with the corresponding period the previous year.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship deputy secretary Abdul Rizvi told an estimates hearing that 21,464 primary applicant visas had been approved so far this fiscal year.

With the 457 visa programme growing in popularity this year’s visa grants look odds on to greatly exceed the 2005-06 total of 39,527.

The 457 visa was introduced after pressure on the Government to put in place a programme to enable companies to bring workers in quickly when they are needed.

With the increased number of visas though has come an increase in the number of alleged abuses by employers. More than 300 employers are under investigation and a parliamentary inquiry is examining the 457 scheme, which critics say is poorly monitored by the Immigration Department.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship and Office of Workplace Services (OWS) has drawn up hit lists of rogue employers who may not be allowed to employ foreign workers on 457 visas for a variety of reasons.

"We, at the moment, hold not only a list of employers of concern that we have identified ourselves through the various processes, but there is also a list of employers of concern that OWS have identified which we maintain on our database," said Rizvi.

"If any of those two sets of employers applies for a subclass 457 visa, that history will automatically come up and will need to be considered."

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