Australian mining industry backs move to scrap 457 visas

Australia’s mining industry has supported the federal government’s plan to replace the 457 Visa program with a new temporary worker immigration scheme.

The Turnbull Government yesterday announced it would abolish the 457 Visa program, which was once a prominent method for recruitment of skills required in Australia’s mining industry.

However, this is no longer the case, with the mining and business community saying the impact on the industry will be minimal in the current market environment.

Applications for 457 visas in Australia’s resources industry have fallen substantially over the past five years, dropping from 6630 in 2011-12 to 230 in 2016-17, according to Department of Immigration figures.

Mining now represents just 1.8 per cent of new 457 applications throughout Australia.

The Queensland Resources Council (QRC) noted that employment of 457 visa holders had decreased since the mining construction boom days.

The total number of 457 visas given to workers in the mining industry in 2015/16 was a quarter of that of industries with health services and a fraction of the hospitality industry, according to QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane.

“Last financial year, 457 visa holders in the Queensland mining industry decreased by 26.5 per cent. Hospitality, health care, education, construction, manufacturing, IT and professional services are the big users of 457 visas,” Macfarlane explained.

Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) acting chief executive Tara Diamond said the Australian Government’s new plan would help ensure skilled migrants, and the significant contribution they make to our nation, was no longer trivialised and leveraged for cheap political point-scoring.

“However, it should be recognised that the 457 Visa program has worked as intended. The system was built to be responsive to changes in our economy and fluctuating labour demand, and has delivered on this objective,” Diamond explained.

“The resource industry is one sector that has seen a dramatic change in labour demand and skills availability in recent years.

“The same temporary skilled migration programs that were critical to filling crippling skills shortages during the major project investment and construction boom, have more recently seen numbers drop to almost non-existent, as skills and labour pressures have eased.”

Last financial year, 457 visa holders in the Queensland mining industry decreased by 26.5 per cent. Hospitality, health care, education, construction, manufacturing, IT and professional services are the big users of 457 visas

Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia (CCI) chief executive officer Deidre Willmott warned that any changes to the skilled migration system must not make it harder for businesses to access skilled labour quickly and efficiently.

Willmott said WA businesses must be able to access skilled workers in times of skill shortages.

“Western Australian workplaces are home to many niche, technical skills that can take years to develop – when the economy is thriving, WA employers need access to these skills quickly so their businesses can grow and create more jobs for all workers,” Willmott said.

“If these skills are unavailable locally, it is vital that employers have the flexibility to source these skills overseas – in the year to June 2012, WA employers made more than 16,000 applications for 457 visas.

“Mechanical engineering technicians and civil engineers were the most sought-after at the time, which reflected the period’s peak demand for mining skills.”

The Temporary Skill Shortage Visa initiative will involve two streams – short term and medium term. According to the Australian Government, it will be underpinned by more focused occupation lists that are responsive to genuine skill needs and regional variation across Australia.

Short-term visas will be issued for two years, while medium-term visas will be issued only for more critical skills shortages and for up to four years.

The Business Council of Australia (BCA) also provided guidance for the government’s plan to introduce the Temporary Skill Shortage Visa.

“The capacity for businesses to hire temporary workers to fill genuine skill shortages has been an overall boon for Australia, allowing the economy to ride out volatile economic cycles including in the mining industry,” BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.

“Businesses naturally prefer to hire Australians wherever possible – it’s easier, it’s cheaper and it means workers come ready with valuable local knowledge and skills. However, when there aren’t enough skilled workers available, a small number of temporary visas can be the deciding factor in whether or not a large investment goes ahead.”

Westacott added it was crucial government worked with employers to get the details right and ensure industry’s ability to fill genuine skills shortages was enhanced, not degraded.