The Australian Federal Government is considering 22 suggested changes to the country’s skilled migrant visa.
This comes on the back of an independent report and subsequent suggestions by a panel of 4 labour and economic experts submitted to the Australian Department of Immigration and Border protection.
Reports in the Australian newspaper The Guardian this week stated that the government is willing to investigate the possibility to limit and reduce Australia’s notoriously “unnecessarily restrictive” visa conditions imposed on skilled foreign worker through the 457 visa scheme.
One of the suggested changes to the 457 visa would include the scrapping of the rigid English language proficiency rules, or at least relaxing those conditions.
The Australian immigration minister, Scott Morrison, have said that he supports for some of the recommendations outlined in a government-commissioned report on the 457 visa program. But Morrison cautioned that the government would not be acting hastily in implementing any suggested amendments to the current 457 visa conditions. He added that some controversial changes were likely to be met with Senate-level opposition and it would be more productive to focus their energies on amendments that would be less controversial while appealing to prospective migrant workers.
Australia currently employs a system of Labour market testing. This legislation was put into play by the former Gillard government and requires prospective employers of people under the 457 visa program to demonstrate their efforts of testing the local labour market to ensure Australians had the first opportunity to seek job opportunities.
On this the report said employer-conducted labour market testing should be abolished as it was not fully reliable and had “proven ineffective” in the Australian context.
On this issue Mr Morrison agreed and stated that the labour market testing regime was problematic in some areas and part of an “attempt to suffocate the program with regulation at the urging of the unions.”
The report suggested 22 changes to the 457 visa requirements and this included the abolishment of the strict English language requirements. The panel instead suggested that visa applicants should not be required to achieve a score of at least five in each of the four tests – listening, reading, writing and speaking, and that the requirement should shift to an average of at least five, the report said.
The report furthermore suggested that industries and business should seek greater flexibility and that the language requirement should instead be considered on a case by case basis.
Morrison signalled his support for changes in this area.
“The English language requirements are unnecessarily restrictive, serving more as an industrial lock-out rather than an honest attempt to ensure appropriate language skills which the government does believe is important,” said immigration minister Scott Morrison in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
“There are more practical ways to achieve what is needed here and moving to an averaging system would remove much unnecessary cost and complexity.”
On recommendations by the report that the earnings threshold for foreign workers should be reduced to that of 2012, Morrison said he backed the suggestion which would enable Australian industries and business to offer more employment options to skilled.
The rules were designed to avoid migrant workers being exploited and aims to ensure 457 visa holders have the same salary and employment conditions as Australians undertaking similar work.
Morrison said: “I support the continuation of the market rate framework, but will, in line with the recommendations of the review, look favourably on introducing a deregulation measure that brings the income bar for exemption from market rate assessment in line with the top marginal tax rate of $180,000.
“I am also attracted to the proposals that support trusted legitimate sponsors and help them manage their compliance and reporting obligations more effectively, whilst making it more difficult for those with dishonest intent to make fraudulent application.”
The assistant immigration minister, Michaelia Cash, who commissioned the review, said the panel for four labour experts had consulted 150 organisations from various stakeholder groups including employers, unions and individuals.