With xenophobia raging in the US and Europe and a golden opportunity arising to lure the best and brightest innovation talent to these shores, how seriously should we take claims that Australia’s 457 system has become overheated when it comes to IT labour?
The IT Professionals Association, (ITPA) claims there is a problem with 457s, especially in relation to visa holders filling the entry-level tech support roles that would normally go to local IT graduates.
The ITPA points out federal government data showing that while the overall number of 457 visas issued over the last decade (excluding IT) has risen by just 2 per cent, there had been a 136 per cent rise in 457 visas issued for IT workers.
And that when it comes to entry level tech jobs, such as systems administration and IT support, the growth rate for 457s is a whopping 480 per cent.
ITPA director Martin Hale says his organisation is not against skilled immigration or 457 visas per se, but feels the system is being exploited to the detriment of newly minted IT graduates who trained here – either as citizens or students from other countries.
He believes employers are bringing in foreign, experienced workers to fill low grade positions in IT support and system administration that would normally be the first step on the career rung for graduates of local IT education institutions.
“My concern is that (the growth in tech-related 457 visas) is much higher than the growth in the industry,” Mr Hale told InnovationAus.com.
Mr Hale’s evidence is so far anecdotal, with the issue being raised by a number of the ITPA’s 8000 strong membership.
“What we are seeing is employers getting experienced people from overseas to come into entry level positions. What hope does that give inexperienced people from ever getting a foot in the door?”
He worries that if getting a leg-up in the local industry becomes too hard, it will turn students off pursuing IT degrees and careers.
To counter what it sees as abuse of the 457 visa system, the ITPA wants the Department of Immigration and Border Control to furnish details of 457 visa applications for entry level IT roles so that local graduates can have a crack at them.
The organisation also says it will ‘name and shame’ organisations abusing the system.
Henry Sherrell, a research officer at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy specialises in migration and labour mobility. In the past, he spent time in public service working on the 457 visa program with the Immigration Department.
Mr Sherrell says skilled migration is a complex issue and he sees a number of positives in the 457 visa system including robust skills transfer.
“Research we did in the past shows that 75 percent of people on 457s train their local counterparts.
“In general, the 457 visa program follows the labour market. So as the mining boom ended you’ll see fewer construction related occupations and you’ll see fewer mining occupations in the program.”
He says the view that IT related 457 visas should decline in line with say construction jobs, is a furphy but he also warns that large ‘outlier’ trends should be closely monitored by government.
“Anything which is an outlier, anything that looks a bit suss, that should be considered by the government and they should make sure that everything is being complied with.”
Mr Sherrell says it’s possible the ITPA could have a live issue with local graduates being squeezed out of jobs by 457 visa holders.
“There are possibly companies which seek to squeeze every last dollar of profit and in some instances that will harm on the margins Australian graduates. But at the same time there are examples where using a workforce that has Australian and overseas workers has very positive benefits for the broader industry and labour market.”.
As for skilled immigration at the top end of the innovation food chain, Mr Sherrell believes right now is a gold-plated opportunity for Australia to cash in on US and European xenophobia.
“I think it’s a really big opportunity. The combination of what’s happening in Britain and the United States is probably one of the biggest advantages Australia has had in attracting skilled workers in a very long time.
“Most people have wanted to go to America and Europe. Australia likes to think of itself as a global destination, but in reality its further down the ladder than we think we like to imagine.
“This is an opportunity that instead of grumbling we should be out there working with the visa and investment frameworks that we have got and just trying to squeeze as much as possible out of this.”
“Presenting Australia as a place of welcome and of innovation is something we should all be trying to get behind because the benefits are tremendous.
“That’s not to say that Australian workers shouldn’t be afforded every opportunity to get a job, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”