New skills visas’ a tech problem

Stuart Kennedy

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has waved a wand and made politically troublesome 457 visas go away with a clever rebranding exercise, but IT employee advocacy groups say the new Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visas have their own problems.

Almost 100,000 foreign workers have used the 457 visa to gain employment in Australia with tech and telecom jobs highly represented in the program.

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 with entry level tech jobs, such as systems administration and IT support, the growth rate for 457s is a whopping 480 per cent.

Mr Turnbull put on his Trump hat when announcing the changes saying: “We’re putting jobs first. We’re putting Australians first. Australia is the most successful multicultural nation in the world – we are an immigration nation. But the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs

“We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”

The TSS visa program will be phased in over the next 12 months and consist of short-term (two year) and medium-term (four year) classes.

Applicants will need to pass tighter English language and work experience tests and must also be under the age of 45.

The new scheme sees 200 job categories reduced from the program but some say the category reduction exercise has not gone far enough.

IT Professionals Association (ITPA) President, Robert Hudson believes there are inconsistencies with the new TSS regime.

The association questions why some IT&T roles are still on the eligible list for TSS including ICT customer support officer, network administrator and systems administrator.

“I’d like to see justification for any of the IT roles being on there because we believe that the lack of local expertise is grossly overstated,” Mr Hudson said.

“People are claiming there is no-one locally available to do these jobs so we have to go overseas. We don’t believe that is the truth.”

Mr Hudson believes some market testing is done at a rate that ‘nobody in Australia would work for in those roles’ and wants more transparency brought to the process.

“Under the 457 visa scheme and under the news scheme the market testing that has to be done is carried out by the organisation wanting to bring somebody in,” he said.

“They are required to keep evidence of it but not necessarily required to provide that evidence. We’d like to see that the evidence of market testing actually meets market requirements.

“If someone is looking for a senior DPA and only offering $53,900 and then saying oh look nobody locally wanted it we will bring in someone from overseas.”

Mr Hudson wants employers who bring in foreign workers to publish the results of the market testing they did.

He believes some IT workers brought out on 457 visas at below market rates are being blackmailed to keep accepting the low rates under threat of being sent home.

The ITPA wants clear sanctions for companies that abuse either the 457 visa scheme or the new TSS system, with culprits being suspended from being able to using temporary work visas for a period of time.

The ITPA has been outspoken about potential rorting of the old 457 visa system in relation to IT and telecoms workers but is still in the process of gathering evidence.

“We are working through that and we have some leads as well as some freedom of information requests in with some government agencies,” says Mr Hudson.

On the other side of the debate, the government has drawn flack from startups and high-end tech research outfits that fear the new TSS scheme will restrict or deter offshore talent from coming here.

Data61 CEO Adrian Turner said last week that his outfit was looking very closely at the TSS scheme.

“Generally, Australia needs to make it easier and not harder for IT and cyber security talent to come and work in the country,” Mr Turner said.

Groups such as the ITPA and others should get a hearing according to Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos, who told ABC radio last week that there will opportunity for feedback from the tech community on the TSS scheme.

The ACS is full of praise for the new TSS system with CEO Andrew Johnson saying that while some have suggested the TSS reforms don’t go far enough he prefers to think about it ‘being akin to a brand refresh.’

“Sometimes the quickest way to change culture and business practice is to update the objectives and recast the message. These are sensible changes with twelve months to fully implement,” says Mr Johnson.

He is happy with the way the government has approached skill categories.

“At the moment I think it’s a good balance and they have committed to an annual review. What we really like is the separation between the two year and the four year (work) term. That distinction is very helpful.”

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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