“The 457 visa is abolished. It will be replaced by a new system that will be manifestly, rigorously, resolutely conducted in the national interest to put Australians and Australian jobs first”. Malcolm Turnbull might as well have used the word “tremendously” when he made the announcement of his government’s new policy: the abolition of the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457). It was, after all, his Donald Trump moment – or his Pauline Hanson moment, depending on which commentator you want to believe. It was certainly his Peter Dutton moment. A show of strength and determination, designed to send a message, but not to address a problem, pretty much the way immi.gov.au was replaced by border.gov.au, offering the same information.
It is on that website that one can find all the information needed about the ‘abolition and replacement’ of the 457 visa. So far, most reactions have been focusing on the ‘abolition’ part, while the main issue is the ‘replacement’ part. The 457 visa will be replaced by the Temporary Skills Shortage visa (as wishful-thinking a term as possible), which will be comprised of a short term stream of up to two years (renewed onshore once, before the holder goes abroad to reapply), and a medium term stream of up to four years (with permanent residency coming after three years). Which means that visa holders will have to wait longer. This may sound a lot, but if there is one thing you learn when you try to migrate, is to be patient and wait.
The main difference concerns the list of skills that the Australian government deems as being in shortage, albeit “temporarily”. It seems that Australia does not need to bring over firefighters or electronic engineering technicians, but it does need bakers.
“They’re on the list plainly because employers are saying they can’t find Australians to do the work”. And within this phrase lies everything one needs to know about the reforms – mainly, that they are not going to bear fruit. The government has not even been able to provide any estimate of the reduction of migrant entries that it expects under the new scheme. “There will be less and they will stay for less time”, was the exact phrase of the PM. If it sounds vague and not very well thought through, it’s because it is precisely that.
The 467 visa is being replaced because, apparently, “it has lost credibility”, having been exploited by employers who use it to bring to the country cheap bakers (to state a random example).
The new visa will also be dependent on employers, who will define the needs of the market. So the same people who are to blame for the failure of 457 visa, will be in charge of the new visa – while the migrants will pay the price, by being denied entry.
What’s more important is that the government boasts about the ‘mandatory labour market testing’, but then it hastily adds, in the same sentence: ‘unless an international obligation applies’.
India is already looking into the matter ‘in the context of trade negotiations’, as reported by the ABC. The government should have checked which international trade agreement documents bear the signature of an Australian PM, before making all this noise about securing ‘Australian jobs’.
There are two ways to secure jobs: make provisions for growth, and in particular, to train the workforce, but these solutions are more demanding and complicated and difficult than blaming migrants and securing borders.
In the end, the whole idea of ‘replacing 457 visa’ with another scheme is nothing but an acceptance of the only thing that is certain: one way or another, Australia will continue importing workers. It’s what made this country in the first place; it’s what allowed its economy to flourish from the 1970s onwards, it is what made it richer. It is what Australia does. It doesn’t matter if it’s called ‘temporary work’, or ‘temporary skills shortage’, it’s still a program that brings workers to the country.
They may need to learn how to bake first – because the government apparently is failing in its task to train bakers – but they will still come, as long as they speak English.
Because, if this reform is about anything, it is about expanding English language requirements, in regards to both work opportunities and citizenship eligibility.
This obsession with the English language has already caused backlash among different community groups. Social media was flooded with messages by indignant Australians stating that their parents helped the country thrive, working hard and paying taxes and making a contribution to society, despite having arrived without knowledge of English. They are right. This country was not built by English speakers. It was run by English speakers and still is. These are two different things. They should be dealt with accordingly.