The Turnbull Government has announced it will abolish the Subclass 457 Visa for foreign workers and create a new temporary visa restricted to critical skills shortages.
Coming just hours before a similar announcement by President Trump in the USA, Mr Turnbull said the purpose of the shake-up was to 'put Australian workers first'.
The new Temporary Skill Shortage Visa programme will comprise two streams – Short Term and Medium Term – and will be underpinned by more focused occupation lists that are responsive to genuine skill needs and regional variations across Australia.
Both streams will be subject to increased labour market testing, and tightened English language requirements.
Speaking at the announcement, the Prime Minister clarified the Government’s intentions.
“These new visas will ensure that Australian businesses have access to the workers from overseas they need to fill real skill gaps, but not otherwise.
“Australians, wherever possible, where vacancies are there, where job opportunities are there, Australians will be able to fill them,” Mr Turnbull said.
Farm sector cautions PM
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) responded with cautious optimism, saying it hoped the Prime Minister’s ‘new’ temporary visa programme will better address the labour shortages currently constraining agriculture.
NFF Chief Executive Tony Mahar said access to skilled workers was essential to the continued growth and productivity of Australian agriculture but unfortunately critical skill shortages existed across many farm industries.
“Overseas workers are important in meeting these shortages however we have had longstanding issues with access to the 457 visa programme,” Mr Mahar said.
The current programme does not recognise many of the skills Australian farmers require, largely because many occupations have their skill levels classified too low to meet the required threshold.
“The reality is that in farming, much of the training is done on-the-job and experience is often, valued more highly than tertiary qualifications,” Mr Mahar said.
The announcement has prompted concerns about labour agreements that have been negotiated in the pork and dairy industries which are linked to the existing 457 programme.
Mr Mahar said more detail on the Government’s new visa programme was required before the NFF could welcome the announcement.
“It is definitely an opportunity to tailor a working visa programme to assist agriculture’s workforce needs, but consultation on our industry’s needs will be critical,” Mr Mahar concluded.
Rural health a critical factor
The National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) has responded strongly to the announcement, noting the importance of the current 457 visa in meeting demand for health professionals in the bush.
“I would love to be in the situation where we rely on locally trained health professionals to fill all vacancies in rural and remote communities”, said David Butt, Chief Executive Officer of the NRHA, “but that is still many years away. Without overseas trained health professionals, many rural and remote communities would simply be without access to health care.”
“I note that a new class of visa will be available, and while I have not yet seen the requirements, I would urge the Government to be mindful of the need to ensure implementation does not impact negatively on the health needs of the seven million people living outside Australia’s major cities,” said Mr Butt.
“The people who live in rural and remote Australia have higher rates of diseases than their city cousins, and have poorer health outcomes, with death rates up to 60% higher for Coronary heart disease and 35% higher for lung cancer.
“Whatever replaces the 457 visa must ensure we do not put the health of these seven million people at further risk,” concluded Mr Butt.
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