24 November 2008

NFF calls for govt to cut red tape on 457 visa programme

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The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) is hoping the Deegan Review into the subclass 457 visa scheme for temporary workers in Australia would encourage the government to improve the scheme's practicality and reduce costs for farmers, reports Farmonline.

An industrial relations expert, Barbara Deegan, conducted the review after the Government decided to reassess the integrity of the temporary skilled migration program (subclass 457 visa).

The 457 visa scheme allows Australian employers to sponsor overseas workers to temporarily work in nominated positions in the country for up to four years.

 The NFF says the Deegan Review would be crucial in providing recommendations to improve the 457 visa scheme, so that farmers can employ more overseas workers and maintain maximum productivity.

"While our farm sector directly employs almost 300,000 Australians, increasingly we’re looking to overseas workers to fill the chronic labour shortage in rural and regional areas," NFF president David Crombie said.

The NFF has implored the government to impose pragmatic upgrades to the programme and to take heed of the recommendations made in the review.

"The existing 457 visa arrangements are impractical, rigid and excessively costly for farmers and take scant regard of the specific occupations we need to fill," Mr Crombie added. 

"With skills shortages a drain on farm production and growth, and red tape strangling farmers needing migration options, the review is timely."

The review provided 66 recommendations for improvements to the temporary Australian visa scheme, including ensuring all temporary workers on salaries under $100,000 receive no less than market rates of pay.  Ms Deegan also recommended a new accredited system be introduced to quicken the process of low-risk visas so employers can fill their positions faster, re-evaluating the skilled occupations included in the scheme, and limiting the overall time a 457 holder can live and work in Australia to eight years.

The report suggested the Government also provide a pathway to permanent residency for those with sufficient English language skills, so that only the people the country needs most can permanently move to Australia.

Senator Evans said in a statement that the Government would take the recommendations closely into account in the 2009 Budget.

"We have made significant improvements to the processing times of subclass 457 visa applications this year and have no intention of complicating the process or adding red tape to the program," he said.

The Minister felt that replacing minimum wages for temporary workers with market rates of pay would ensure the wages of Australians would not be undercut, but that the recommendation to impose a Medicare levy on employers so temporary workers have the same access to the Australian health care system does not comply with his Government's policy. 

"The Rudd Government believes it is important that temporary skilled overseas workers do not place an additional burden on Australia’s public health system," Senator Evans said.

Senator Evans also confirmed the demand for temporary skilled workers would continue to grow despite concerns of an economic slowdown. 

Union leaders have also welcomed the report, who have been aware of the possibilities for exploitation by employers within the scheme.  Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union national secretary John Sutton told the Australian the results would be highly positive for temporary skilled workers in Australia.

"This will have a terrific effect in terms of putting some integrity into the scheme.  For many employers, it's been a cheap labour scheme. (Ms Deegan) goes a long way towards taking that kind of cheap labour attractiveness out of the scheme," Sutton said.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with emigrating to Australia.

Article by Jessica Bird, Australian Visa Bureau.

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