In its submission to the Department of Immigration’s Independent Review of the temporary skilled migrantion scheme, the ACS – while supporting the scheme to help fill a “perceived gap” in local skills - says it has obtained data from the Department which draws a “disturbing picture” of over-reliance on 457 Visas by ICT employers.
The ACS alleges many employers are misusing 457 visas to bring in skilled workers instead of investing in local talent to bring them up to speed – choosing instead to take on overseas ICT professionals for jobs that “could or should have been available for the existing Australian workforce”.
According to the society, it has feedback from individuals of alleged employer abuse of the 457 scheme, where employers are perceived to have retrenched older ICT workers and replaced them with “cheap 457 skills” due to perceived short-term cost and productivity drivers.
While acknowledging that employers may be reluctant to invest in bringing graduates “up to speed”, and that this may bias employers to a 457 Visa solution, the ACS also acknowledges that many employers consider graduates from many disciplines are not work ready and that while they have deep technical knowledge they may lack the professional skills necessary in business.
And, the ACS says similar employability arguments are heard in relation to displaced older workers, with those workers requiring up-skilling or cross-training.
The society even claims it has feedback from older ICT workers who say they have been retrenched shortly before their employer has brought in 457 Visa workers, allegedly to replace them.
It is also critical of some companies which it says are not doing adequate searches for local ICT talent before turning to overseas talent through the 457 scheme, cautioning that
“simply stating that reasonable attempts have been made is inadequate and open to abuse”.
The society even alleges that one of its members reported that an ICT employer posted a job vacancy on the company Facebook page for less than 12 hours before determining that a 457 Visa was required.
In its submission, the ACS readily acknowledges that the 457 Visa program is an important tool for the ICT sector where job growth still outpaces the number of domestic ICT graduates each year and “the rapidly changing nature of technology means that required skills are not always readily available in the labour market”.
But, the ACS wants to see hard facts about investment in training and employment market testing by ICT employers.
It submits that both temporary (457) and permanent skilled migration in ICT should only occur in the context of “interventions to assist in addressing domestic skills imbalances”, and this should better be evidenced by employers in both “enterprise training investments and employment market testing.”
“The real issues for the Australian ICT industry and the ICT profession generally are a continual lack of focus on attracting young people into ICT as a career and employer buy in to any form of 'growing a graduate' scheme that would skill them for such a career.
“The ACS has consistently advocated for a focus on attracting young people into ICT through well-thought-out programs in schools, and increased levels of support for Higher Education and the VET Sector.
“In addition we would argue that government incentives might be considered to employers to encourage 'growing a graduate'. As a result, Australia would produce more domestic ICT graduates, significantly reducing the reliance on 457 visas.”
In its submission, the ACS says the most recent quarterly reporting published by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection reveals that 40% of all 457 Visa applicants last year lacked a degree.
“This makes sense when Cooks and Café Managers are the most popular 457 Visa categories and the ACS is interested in obtaining further data in relation to ICT 457 Visa applicants specifically given ongoing concerns in government and industry about both the (poor) quality of ICT projects undertaken in Australia with subsequent costs to consumers and citizens, as well as concerns about the availability of entry level employment for ICT graduates in non-ICT roles as much as the number of ICT graduates who are in full time employment in non-ICT roles.”
And, the ACS also observes that the impact of 457 ICT Visas is “particularly acute” when data from the government shows that 26% of all 457 Visa grants in ICT occupations went to persons already in Australia (3,002 out of 11,631).
“While the overall onshore rate of the 457 program (43%) is higher than for ICT, it is still significant when compared to the number of domestic ICT graduates each year, and that our graduates must therefore compete with around 3,000 foreign nationals receiving 457 Visas each year and who are already in Australia – many already working for their 457 sponsor.
“Furthermore, a large proportion of onshore 457 Visa grants for ICT are for what arguably may be seen as graduate level work.”
In further comment on the 457 Visa scheme, the ACS reiterates its acknowledgment that the visas are a legitimate and valuable instrument for all businesses to source skills critical to their operations.
But, in support of the what it calls the “fundamental tenets” of the 457 scheme, the ACS argues that employers should not be able to use the 457 solution to the detriment of Australian/Permanent Resident ICT professionals who are either starting their career (graduates), seeking to change their career (requiring some training), or who are encountering entrenched barriers to employment (sexism, ageism).
“Similarly, employees on 457 Visas should experience the same working conditions as those provided to Australians.”
The ACS suggests that employers seeking to use 457 Visa’s for ICT roles need to better demonstrate there is a genuine immediate skills shortage that cannot be solved through retraining of existing employees “at a cost and in a time period that is at least equivalent to the cost and the time involved in implementing a 457 solution.”
“The 457 scheme is a short term solution and a valuable and important instrument to support Australia’s economic growth. It is not intended to be considered as an ongoing feature of a specific business or employment model. As such, the scheme contains explicit reference to employer training commitments.”
The ACS concludes its submission with a number of recommendations including:
• Develop a national workforce plan for ICT to begin addressing ICT skills supply imbalances in Australia
• Strengthen requirements for Visa recipients to be appropriately skilled professionals
• Strengthen obligations to test market before applying for 457 Visa for ICT roles
• Improve available data on existing and future 457 Visa applicants, in alignment to the government’s stated commitment to Open Data, to enable adequate review of the program.
The ACS submission follows a submission last month by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) which said that the 457 visa programme is critical to local companies being able to solve immediate skill shortage issues and “delivering outcomes to their customers in all sectors”.
“Without appropriate and streamlined access to 457 visas companies are at risk of defaulting on existing contracts, losing new contracts, falling behind international competitors in innovation and productivity or at least incurring significant delays in their ability to respond to market needs,” the AIIA warned.
The AIIA also said there is a notable absence of specific data to demonstrate non compliance with the 457 Visa scheme by the ICT industry, and that in its experience “companies will only turn to overseas labour when it is genuinely needed and with cost in mind, will test the Australian market extensively before recruiting from overseas.”