24.03.15 – Government moves to cut red-tape on legitimate 457 visa applications

March 24, 2015

Carol Giuseppi, NSW Director & Acting CEO TAA

The Government has released an independent review into the 457 visa scheme promising to cut red-tape for legitimate applications, while stressing the need for Australian workers to receive first priority, and for integrity to be at the heart of the process.

The review was commissioned last year by Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Senator Michaelia Cash, and a panel was tasked with examining compliance within the 457 programme by sponsors of overseas workers to ensure that the scheme was meeting its goal of addressing skill shortages unable to be met from the Australian labour market.

We made submissions to the panel as the hospitality industry has long been identified as an industry chronically affected by a lack of local, adequately-qualified labour, especially in regional and remote areas.

Interestingly, in the same week that the report was released, Minister for Trade & Investment, Andrew Robb, was saying that Australia needed to be ready for a massive expansion in tourist numbers, particularly from China, which would require up to 80 new hotels by 2020 to meet the demand.

Already some 40 hotels are under construction or planned, which represents the most prolific expansion in the history of our industry.

With the majority of hotels in the premium-service category, the need for skilled staff over the next five years will be intense, and while many hotel groups have established very impressive training regimes, there is simply no way that the industry will be ready to meet future demand without access to skilled overseas staff.

The report and government’s response are well considered. This is the first time that there has been consideration of the profile of employment in the hospitality sector.

Aspects of the report that should be applauded include:

  • That the current Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold be retained at $53,900 p.a. with no further increases until it is reviewed in two years;
  • That consideration be given to accepting the eligibility threshold as up to 10% lower than the TSMIT;
  • Concessions to be granted concerning English language requirement for certain occupations on a case by case basis, or under a Labour Agreement, Enterprise Migration Agreement or Designated Area Migration Agreement. While English language skills are important, there are some areas in the hospitality industry where English is not such a priority, and language proficiency can be picked up relatively quickly once they begin working;
  • That the government will review the fee structure, especially for secondary visa applicants and visa renewal applications.
  • Introduction of streamlined processing systems for low-risk sponsors

These are all sensible recommendations, and it is now important that the Government implements them. TAA welcomes the decision to appoint a Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration to drive the reform process.

It is also important that members keep on raising the issue with their local MPs, because as the demand for labour increases and shortages increasingly affect operations, hoteliers will need to be able to react quickly to attract temporary overseas staff.

The Minister previously responsible for Tourism in the Labour Government, Martin Ferguson, recognised the specific problems faced by the hospitality industry in terms of accessing skilled staff, but it will be easy for unions and others to resort to emotive language about “jobs for Australians” in an effort to frustrate the reforms. This is despite the obvious fact that 457 visas are not taking jobs away from Australians, because by definition these visas are reserved for workers with specific skills or qualifications identified as being in short supply in the local workforce.

Hotels are already struggling to fill specialist positions such as trained service staff, bar managers, chefs and hotel managers due to local shortages and the constraints of other working visa categories. This will only be exacerbated with the huge growth in investment in new accommodation builds. We will work with the Government to ensure that there is even greater training of locals for the industry, but in the meantime the new 457 guidelines will help address the current shortage of skilled labour in many areas of Australia.