Don’t be fooled by the 457 ban

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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Facebook on April 18 that the government would scrap the controversial 457 visa-. He had not yet fronted the media. ?We?re putting jobs first, we?re putting Australians first,? Turnbull said. ?We are an immigration nation but the fact remains Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs. So we are abolishing the 457 visas; the visas that bring temporary foreign workers into our country. ?We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.? Turnbull said the visa would be replaced with another that will require qualified applicants meet a need for their skills, as well as outlining their previous work history and ensuring English proficiency. ?To help train Australians to fill skills gaps, we will also establish a new training fund,? Turnbull said. Credit: Malcolm Turnbull via Storyful

Malcolm Turnbull announcing the abolition of 457 visas on Facebook.


OPINION

DO NOT be fooled by Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to scrap 457 visas.

This decision isn’t about protecting migrants from exploitation and it certainly isn’t about improving the job prospects of working Australians.

No, this decision was taken with a very specific political outcome in mind. Whether it achieves an actual outcome for Australia is much of a muchness for a government that is struggling in the polls.

Yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull announced on Facebook his intention to bin the controversial 457 visa category and replace it with something bright, shiny and new. That bright and shiny new thing is actually just the same 457 visa program with a bit of tinkering around the edges.

The changes proposed won’t achieve much other than serving to frustrate business, create unnecessary paper pushing for bureaucrats and fund an extra annual holiday in the Maldives for migrant agents.

MORE: What you need to know about the 457 visa changes

MORE: The jobs Australian workers won’t do

But this announcement wasn’t about policy, it was about politics and in that regard it may prove highly effective. Listen closely to the recording of his announcement and you’ll hear Turnbull emitting a long and low dog whistle. While pretending to talk about jobs, he was actually pleading with conservative voters not to abandon the Coalition for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

He was speaking the widely used political language of us versus them.

In an announcement that was as light on detail as a shampoo commercial boasting a new scientific formula, the Prime Minister spoke about Australian values. He spoke about putting Australians first.

As Sean Kelly notes in The Monthly, the Prime Minister even managed to squeeze in a reference to people smuggling and border protection. This was a clear play to an anti-migration political mood that saw the election of Trump in the United States and the support of Brexit in the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister is in trouble. His performance in the polls is consistently disappointing and he’s about to deliver a budget that will please few and frustrate many.

He is captive to the conservative wing of his party and has been left unsure of who he is, what he stands for or what to do about it. So he’s playing to the Coalition’s historic strengths and clumsily trying to link genuine issues around skills and unemployment with race and border protection.

By doing so the government has abandoned an opportunity to meaningfully reform the flawed 457 visa category. To make the system better for both Australian workers who are out of a job and migrants workers who are being exploited and taken advantage of.

It’s well established that skilled migrants create more jobs than they take. When you recruit highly skilled people from overseas, their own spending stimulates the economy and actually creates a net result of more jobs.

Immigration Department research has found 457 visa holders to be among the most beneficial entrants to the Australian economy and the budget. Indeed, this is the longstanding rationale for Australia’s successful skilled migration program.

Migration doesn’t just make Australia better — it actually makes us richer.

The key to making a temporary skilled migrant visa class work effectively is three fold. Firstly, you have to ensure there legitimately aren’t any Australians capable and willing to do the job.

Secondly, if that kind of job is going to be available over the long term, you want to find ways to upskill Australians so they can do that job in the future.

And thirdly, the rights and wellbeing of migrant workers who do come to Australia to do that job must be protected.

The new visa Mr Turnbull proposes isn’t an improvement on the 457 visa on any of these three counts. The removal of 200+ occupations from the skilled list is merely symbolic. Most of the jobs listed are relatively low-use anyway and all it means is that employers will get a bit more creative in the way they describe vacant jobs.

Similarly, that employers produce greater evidence of labour market testing before looking overseas for workers sounds good in theory but is ineffective in practice. John Howard knew that — it’s why under his government labour market testing was abolished.

After all, a junior department of immigration bureaucrat is unlikely to have a thorough enough understanding of a specific industry job market to argue with a major employer that operates in it every day.

Luckily, there is a simple solution to ensuring employers don’t use this visa category to recruit overseas workers for low skill or entry level jobs; jobs that could be filled by Australians who are currently out of work. And that is by setting a much higher and more strictly enforced minimum salary requirement.

So if your business needs a migrant’s specific skillet so badly that you cannot find any Australians to do the work — well, then you can pay them properly for it. This will stop employers abusing the system and deliberately recruiting low skilled overseas workers because they’re cheaper. Skilled and highly educated temporary migrants are also less susceptible to exploitation.

The minimum salary for a skilled temporary worker under the 457 visa class is currently $53,900. No change has been proposed to this figure, which incidentally hasn’t been indexed for several years.

Independent reviews have recommended the minimum salary be increased substantially but these have been ignored by government. Doing so would help achieve the government’s stated policy aims, rather than messing about with the small stuff as a means of demonising migrants.

Unemployed and underemployed Australians deserve better than political game playing by Malcolm Turnbull, a prime minister who cares more about his own job than theirs.

Jamila Rizvi is a writer, presenter and news.com.au columnist. In a former role she worked for the Labor Party as a staffer for former prime minister Kevin Rudd and former minister Kate Ellis. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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