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21 responses to “457 visas: below the rhetoric”

  1. Paul Norton

    Excellent post, Brian.

  2. Sacha Blumen

    Thanks Brian. Interesting – one thing at the top wasn’t clear to me:

    Each year the Australian labour force grows by 1%, that’s about 120,000. In addition we have about 140,000 more baby boomers retiring than we have young people coming on. So we have an annual shortfall each year of about 260,000 workers.

    I don’t know the numbers, but doesn’t this imply there’s a ‘labour shortfall’ of 20,000 per annum? Or is it 140,000? (in reality the additional baby boomers will demand goods and services thus creating jobs etc, but assume those effects aren’t there)

  3. Geoff Henderson

    Great post indeed.

    I consider myself a “victim” of overseas recruitment. I was applying for jobs as an environmentalist at many mining companies. Typically I was told that my experience levels were below what their client was seeking. That was probably correct much of the time.
    What pissed me off though was an English advertisement for a person to come to Australia. Included was the visa, travel for the entire family, accommodation and a pretty reasonable salary. Such a person would “hit the ground running” and live a glorious life. I did a little math and guesstimated that the establishment cost for that employee would likely approach $90,000. To mentor me up to the standard might take say, eighteen months and a notional cost of around $10,000. but training was never a part of these opportunities.

    I actually wrote to the principal company by way of protest. Six months later I was astonished to learn that my application was unsuccessful but they were grateful to receive my application.

    Successful applicants were/are frequently poached from other companies at ever higher rates because – there was/is a shortage of skilled hands-on people. Now these same companies complain of the high cost of staff. The no-train policy has left the industry short of local applicants, hence the drift to 457. Graduate entry programs fall well short of any serious attempt to skill up workers.

    Meantime politicians and policy makers wring their hands and announce a task force, an inquiry or policy paper…

    I am still pissed off. Bring back John Dawkins compulsory training policy. It worked.

  4. Peter Murphy

    Don’t apologize, Brian. This is one of those omnibus posts that helps the reader make sense of a complicated subject. The more detail the better.


  5. Russell

    I can’t remember ever seeing the other direction of this flow mentioned. It says on the My Future website: “More than 800,000 Australians work overseas, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).”

    You would think that we were being swamped with foreigners, while we never went and worked in their countries. I worked in Asia and was welcomed very nicely.

  6. Golly Gosh


    thanks for recognising that 457s are a genuine issue for the local workforce. And an even bigger thanks for not smearing people with genuine concerns about this issue as racist and xenophobes.

  7. pablo

    “Problem’ visas is put at possibly 10 000, while departmental checking is reported to be around 4 percent. Knowing what we do by way of arrests, to date, in Australian Customs and that the percentage of imported shipping containers that get searched for drugs is equally small, what might we fear about corruption in 457 visa applications? Or in all work related visas (students, tourists etc). Has the ‘opportunity cost’ of getting a work visa to Australia created its own category of internal people smugglers much as the drug syndicates keep arising from the ruins of ‘busts’.
    Maybe we need a federal ICAC-like body, independent of the AFP, to properly assess the level of national corruption in these sorts of areas. If O’Connor’s efforts on 457 bear strange fruit then maybe he can convince Gillard of the need. A re-election pledge perhaps?
    I feel a wedge coming on.

  8. akn

    …and a blockbuster it is too, comrade! I’ll comment when I’ve completed reading.

  9. jules

    Clearly there are aspects of the 457 visa system that need to be dealt with asap. They seem to centre around increasing security for visa holders in terms of employment and being allowed to stay, but probably also include conditions especially wrt safety, and probably wages too. 457 visa holders should be entitled to the same wages as other people who are citizens, or similar. Thanks for your post Brian, its excellent, (as always.)

  10. Dave


    “Levels of annual net migration above 80,000 become increasingly ineffective and inefficient in the retardation of ageing. Those who wish to argue for a higher level of immigration must base their argument on the benefits of a larger population, not upon the illusory ‘younging power’ of high immigration.”

  11. GabrielleH

    Thank you for highlighting the real issues behind the government’s rhetoric on 457 visas. The complaints about employers exploiting 457 workers in an attempt to drive down wages have been flowing from many unions for some time. They are not racist complaints but express concerns for the exploited 457 workers as well as concern for Australian resident workers. I’m sure some people are racist about it but I have heard none of that when I’ve heard unionists complaining. It was always about how the employers were rorting the system. They are the ones who apply for the visas and bring the 457 workers into the country. Everyone who is involved in the process knows this and other people should not have rushed to judgement so quickly. It is not racist to defend working conditions.

  12. Chris

    They seem to centre around increasing security for visa holders in terms of employment and being allowed to stay, but probably also include conditions especially wrt safety, and probably wages too. 457 visa holders should be entitled to the same wages as other people who are citizens, or similar.

    I think the key is the ability to stay for the original term of their visa if they lose their employment. Once they have that capability then they can’t effectively be exploited by their employer and the conditions will follow as much as they do for Australian residents.

  13. jules

    Chris, that issue of security must be a cause of full on stress for people on 457 visas. The uncertainty would drive me nuts.

    Its open to all sorts of potential exploitation. What are the chances of a 457 worker being able to pursue a claim for sexual harassment or assault for example. (Not that I’m suggesting this has happened.) For all i know there are provisions for that sort of thing in the visa regulations, but if there are I’d bet the visa holders themselves don’t know about them.

  14. akn

    sometime shortly after the introduction of 457 visas I read of a Filipino worker on contract to a wood cutter up in the Pilliga scrub who was killed on his first day at work after a tree he felled dropped on him; he had no English and no prior training or experience with a chainsaw let alone training in how to drop a tree safely. I can’t find the reference now. For some time I did my best to track these sorts of stories and there were a fair few of them.

    The point remains, however, that with the ALP in office for two terms these matters could and ought to have been dealt with before now; raising it now looks like political expediency. Gillard’s language is very definitely the dog whistle. A shame, really, for Gillard’s ‘party of the unions’ to be reduced to this.

  15. Chris

    The howard government originally brought in the 457 Visa to address a temporary short fall in skilled workers while we upskilled aussies to do the job. The system is being misused by companies and the government needs to step and resolve this. If you want prosperity and low employment in this country you should vote down any government that refuses to clamp down on this abuse of visas. In the majority of cases A 457 visa means an unemployed aussie claiming centrlink. Where they address a genuine skills shortage fair enough. But to many employers are looking for cheap labour without understanding the macro economics.

  16. Graham Bell

    We do need a system which allows skilled workers to be brought into Australia to meet genuine shortages of Australian workers …. but the 457 racket is definitely NOT such a system. It is nothing but Rort Central.

    Some years before the 457 racket came into being, it was common to see employment classified ads in the major dailies worded in such a way as to exclude almost all native-born Australian job-seekers. No dogs or Aussies need apply. I was able to follow up a few dozen of these employment ads and found only ONE that was in any way genuine (that one was for a Korean-speaking pastor for a Korean community here; a thoroughly reasonable job qualification) . The other so-called “jobs” were as dodgy as all getout.

    When I tried to complain about these fraudulent employment ads, I copped nothing but hysterical abuse and was condemned as a racist redneck. There was indeed racism – but not from me!

    Since the 457 racket has been in existence, things have gone from bad to worse. Some employers – and exploiters – no longer even bother going through the motions of pretending to look for Australian workers. Many suitable Australian workers no longer bother applying for jobs from which they expect to be excluded.

    This is social dynamite …. when (not if) it all blows up I hope and pray that it is nothing worse than the Cronulla riots.

    We can avoid a social disaster and get a workable and beneficial system of solving skilled worker shortages at the same time. Firstly: Set up a government organization with exclusive powers to operate a skilled migration system. A body that would make threatening workers with deportation impossible; a body with extraordinary powers of arrest that would make rent-racketeers and pay-thieves think twice. Secondly: prosecute the CEOs and boards of firms that have abused the 457 system without penalty: 12 months hard labour in Silverwater or Etna Creek may seem a bit lenient but after the first few dozen or so imprisonments, others in the business community might start getting the message. Why not? It’s a better alternative to costly riots.