IT Visa Argument Is Over-Simplistic

IT Visa Argument Is Over-Simplistic

The number of applications to employ non-Australian IT staff through the 457 visa system is increasing. However, it’s overly simplistic to argue those jobs could instantly go to Australian workers instead.

Worker picture from Shutterstock

The question of 457 visas has become a contentious issue since the current Federal government announced plans to tighten up regulations in this area, citing (largely undocumented) instances of abuses of the systems. IT is one of the areas in the firing line.

Though there aren’t comprehensive figures on the number of IT workers, figures released over the weekend suggest that the level of IT workers employed via the 457 system are on the rise. Today’s AFR quotes numbers from Federal immigration minister Brendan O’Connor as suggesting “a 68 per cent increase in 457 visas in the information technology industry, while vacancies for local IT workers were decreasing”.

The problem here is a simple and obvious one: the skills available from local workers may not be the same as those businesses are currently importing staff for. One theme that emerges regularly when we report on IT career development is that if you have an in-demand skill, you’ll have a wider choice of jobs and a healthier wage packet. Not all IT jobs are equal. It’s not too hard to fill help-desk positions; it’s very hard to find staff with deep experience in business analytics.

To solve that problem, we need better training. But cutting off 457 workers won’t achieve that, and it may leave some workplaces short of skills they’re willing to pay for. It’s not a simple problem to solve, but it certainly isn’t the case you can lump all IT pros in a single category and suggest we can fill that purely from local knowledge.


  • Couldn’t agree more on the skills issue.

    A lot of the economic pain Australia is feeling is “frictional”, in that we are being very slow and reluctant to re-tool and re-skill our people and organisations based on what is in demand. Instead, you get the calls for protectionism – reduction in 457 visas from unions and the Left, to protect workers; tax credits and lower employment costs from businesses and investors on the Right to, protect profits.

    To be fair, re-skilling is expensive and painful, but that’s an excuse, not a justification.

    On your other point, getting evidence of abuse with 457 visas is really hard, because as soon as the Government gets a whiff of an irregularity, the infringing company sends all its workers back to where they came from. The workers can’t be found, so can’t testify the abuses, and the underpayments/WHS-issues/whatever are kept off the books. The authorities know it’s happening, but need more smoking guns.

  • I don’t have a problem with bringing in foreign workers so long as they are paid at least the same as, and have the “same” work conditions as, local workers.

    Underpayment damages the conditions for Australians.

    Perhaps larger Australian companies could also start giving back to the community and train locals in the skills they require.

  • I continue to see job agencies holding the 457, and having contractors work at their clients. These jobs are straight forward support roles. These agencies then have these roles out at stupidly low rates since the 457 employee simply cant move onto another role since their 457 is held by the agency. Then there is the other scam, of using language as the specific skill, where you need a certain asian language. They advertise the roles for a few months online, then use that as justification for a 457 saying they cannot fill the roles. I have had qualified friends who met the language requirement who were kindly told that they didnt meet the requirements etc, as they had no plan on hiring locally.

    • agreed, i see too many agencies offering staff who are on 457’s why are they even able to hold a 457 visa employee? this loophole needs to be closed people are getting underpaid and overworked in the aim of giving dodgy business more profit

  • I am here on a 457 visa from the UK. I work for a contracting company and have had a few jobs a several different companies here in Brisbane. I have been chosen over other applicants mainly based on my wide range of skills and experience in lots of different areas. Ranging from Windows Server, Linux, VMWare, Citrix, Exchange, SQL, Monitoring, AV, Firewalls etc. I may not be the ‘best’ at one different thing but my jack of all trades in the IT sector is a big bonus for many companies. From the Australians I have met since living here (3 years now) most are specialised in one area, Exchange or SQL or Windows Server etc. I think this could be a large contributing factor when bringing in people from overseas. My reccomendation for anyone in our sector is to volunteer for all training that’s offered and any new projects that come up. That is where I got most of my skills.

  • I say we need to make 457 workers a “premium” product.

    Require they be paid at least the same as local workers, this should be proven by submitting multiple sources of reference (eg, job listings from multiple organisations for similar skilled roles, actual job position made available to Australian workers first, salary survey results to add further detail (but not the only source)).

    Additionally make sure they all know their rights, set up monthly/quarterly meetings with someone from the immigration department to review their working conditions (paid for by the employer), ensuring that their working conditions are as expected for Australia.

    Make the process expensive. 457 workers should not be anywhere near cheaper than Australian workers. They shouldn’t be cheaper than training up a replacement. They should be a last resort. When you absolutely need someone with those skills and you simply cannot wait for a local person to fill the role.

  • This article is so wrong – I actually work in the industry rather than just being an external observer making a guess.
    457 visa’s are being abused to import cheap labour.
    We have Indian’s coming here on 457 Visas to code Java and PLSQL.
    Guess what, there are plenty of local Java and PLSQL developers here who could do the job.

  • Politics in this country is so mediocre at times. This debate is nothing more than smoke and mirrors to deflect attention away from Labor’s other pressing election issues. The Liberals ride the wave of xenophobic fear-mongering by demonising refugees on boats. The union-backed right in Labor is now doing the same with skilled, temporary migrants.

    It’s ironic because the unions are pushing this debate as they believe temporary migration denies them the opportunity to pursue higher wage claims in the boom sectors. All that would do is drive up inflation and so increase the cost of living for those who work outside of the commodities industries such as us in the IT sectors. Yet they have Labor pitch this whole debate as protecting Australian jobs and wages for the benefit of working Australians.

  • Just change the 457 into a permanent residence visa. And watch the “demand” go away.
    457 visa holders are not part of a free job market; if they lose their job they have to leave.
    Politicians of all colours and business owners would give no support to perm res visas.
    It is only restraint of free trade when it costs the big end of town money.
    457’s are unfair compared to a perm. res. visa.
    Unfair to workers in Australia, and unfair to the bunnies getting them.
    Replace them with per.res. visas instead; then laugh as no “need” is found for workers with a fair position to negotiate on.

  • Both sides of politics are to blame for demonising anyone who comes from overseas for any reason. The Liberals started it, no question, with the Tampa and the dishonest “children overboard” thing BUT Labor has continued it if only to keep the votes of West Sydney and Queensland bogans. Impossible to have a reasoned debate in this country on immigration issues at the moment.

  • I’ve never had a problem finding talented staff locally, and for example would never consider hiring any of the people that our outsources hire as “qualified”. I’m sure there are plenty of well qualified people out there, in the end though i’m sure a lot of talented Australians are equally as drawn overseas to work. Rather ironic if true.

  • It actually makes me angry.. agencies skip someone like me who has a broad range of skills much like Bowlzee and I’m continuously overlooked when I look for work mostly for ppl from o/s which I find out later on. Agencies and contracts all seem to be FLS and I can do much more than FLS.. if only they’d wake up and realize the skills they had in their own back yard!

    It’s one of the biggest reasons why I’m considering getting out of IT all together.

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