Proposed 457 changes ignore regional Australia

AUSVEGProposed amendments by the Australian Labor Party to Australia’s skilled worker migration scheme ignore the needs of regional Australia and risk damaging the vital role that 457 visa-holders play in struggling rural economies, according to peak grower body AUSVEG.

Labor’s compromise plan for passage of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement includes amending Australian migration law to raise the minimum wage threshold for the 457 visa to $57,000 and end a two-year freeze on the threshold.

“After an independent review of the 457 program recommended that the skilled migration income threshold should be frozen for two years, it’s extremely concerning that Labor is trying to rush through this ‘one size fits all’ policy with little regard to the skills shortages being experienced in rural Australia,” said AUSVEG Deputy CEO Andrew White.

AUSVEG believes that increasing the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) will damage rural industries by pricing the visa program above the range of many skilled jobs in regional Australia.

“Arguments that raising the threshold are about ensuring skilled migrants have enough income to support themselves are completely misleading,” said Mr White.

“Workers on a 457 visa already have to be paid the market salary rate for their position, and if that rate is below the income threshold, the position is ineligible for the 457 visa program.”

“There are jobs under the current system which would become ineligible if these proposals were implemented, including key roles for Australian growers like horticultural technicians and farm supervisors. Raising the wage floor is only going to ensure that these vital regional jobs, which would otherwise be performed by skilled workers, go empty.”

As well as recommending a freeze on the TSMIT, the Robust New Foundations independent review into the 457 visa system also found that there may be merit in having a separate, lower TSMIT for positions in regional areas, where market salary rates for many skilled jobs are below the current level of $53,900.

“Imposing an across-the-board increase in the income threshold is a one-size-fits-all strategy that fails to acknowledge the realities of running a business in regional Australia,” said Mr White.

“Any changes to the 457 program must take into account the differences in the job markets in regional and metropolitan Australia, including the average incomes across different industries, instead of simply painting them all with a broad brush policy.”

“We’d like to see any future discussion about changes to the program to take a more evidence-based approach and acknowledge the vital role that the 457 program plays in Australian agriculture.”

AUSVEG is the leading horticultural body representing Australian vegetable and potato growers.  Ω

Posted 20 October 2015