The quarterly 457 visa statistics were published on Wednesday.
A couple of things I think are worth noting.
While this has been a trend for some period, there is a significant gap in average renumeration between states and territories:
While WA and NT should have higher averages, the size is quite substantial. Tasmania having a higher average than Victoria, NSW and SA is also slightly odd however it is off a very low relative number of visa holders. Perhaps this is the only salary data in the labour market where the ACT is the lowest in Australia. This is explained as 457 visa holders are ineligible to work in the public service.
Number of migrants
The number of migrants in Australia on 457 visas continued to rise, to a total of 111 780, the highest figure to date. This number reflects the outcome of program activity over the past four years, not just recent visa activity. Given visa grants rose throughout 2011-12 and 2012-13, we should expect this number to keep rising in the near future.
The share of cooks/chefs/managers via the Accommodation and Food Services industry
This is the most obvious issue the 457 visa program has at the moment. The growth – quadrupling over the past two years – in this specific industry relative to both the rest of the 457 visa program and the labour market as a whole is out of whack. I don’t know if this is a handful of major employers putting on massive amounts of 457 visa holders or if this is an industry push to expand, but it should be concerning to the department and the government. Hospitality is not an industry one immediately thinks of when discussing the 457 visa program and this could change the perception of the program in the community.
If anyone from the department is reading this, look into all the data you have on the hospitality industry because it isn’t going to be pretty when the media starts breaking major stories of exploitation and abuse.
The large increase in permanent visas from 457 visas
The growth of the 457 visa over the last two years has other interesting flow on effects. In 2012-13, about 50 per cent of all permanent visas were granted to people in Australia already. In the skilled stream, this number was about 65 per cent.
In 2013-14, these numbers are rising. 457 visa holders moving onto permanent residency visas is up nearly 40 per cent so far this year which is equivalent to about 10,000 additional visas to date. Nearly all of this increase is from the permanent employer sponsored visas with the rest coming from additional 457 visas holders gaining residency through the points-test, without an employer.
This continues the trend of ‘two-step’ migration where a period of temporary migration is followed by a permanent visa application. Statistics show about 70 per cent of those who stay longer than a year want to stay permanently. The only major concern is for people being stuck on temporary visas for long periods of time. This isn’t a major issue at the moment, but may increase into the future if temporary visas continue to grow while permanent placements stagnate.
A response to the CFMEU press release
The CFMEU released a press statement calling for rules “tightening to ensure that Australian workers and young people were given priority over temporary visa workers”. I would argue is it more difficult to hire a 457 visa holder than an Australian citizen, creating an implicit benefit to Australian workers. The “Australian’s first” argument is not pleasant as it feeds directly into fears in the community about incomes and jobs by conflating negative sentiment with migrants. Toning down this overt language would improve the policy debate.
However, the data outlined in the Accommodation and Food Services industry is concerning. I believe a higher nomination fee should be introduced, instead of tweaking existing regulation. Changing employer behaviour will be easier with price incentives as opposed to bureaucratic fixes.
Further, the CFMEU stated, “The good news is that 457 visa applications are coming down under the 457 reforms introduced by the previous government. But they are still far too high, given the thousands of Australians looking for jobs”. This is simply incorrect. Comparing applications of 2013-14 with those in the same period of 2012-13 is misleading as the large visa fee increase in June 2013 have skewed the visa statistics. In fact, if you look at trend visa application using a 12 month sample frame, visa applications have increased compared to the previous 12 month period. The reforms of the previous government did little to impact the rate of visa applications.
I have a lot of respect for the union movement. One of my earliest political memories is attending a massive waterfront dispute rally in 1997. I’ve been a member of the SDA, CPSU and ASU. But on migration, there are too many voices preaching overtly nationalistic jargon and failing to find a more pragmatic approach. The worst part about this is there are valid concerns to be made about the 457 visa program but jumping at shadows and inflammatory rhetoric doesn’t address them.