The IT Professionals Association (IPTA) has demanded greater transparency of the Australian 457 visa scheme after claiming that they have evidence that the system is being widely abused. The organisation represents some 7,000 IT workers in systems administration and IT support roles. However, IPTA is not exactly an unbiased source of information. It is trying to restrict competition by preventing overseas nationals from obtaining 457 work visas.
The IPTA alleges that it has proof of foreign workers being recruited on lower salaries for jobs that could ‘easily be filled locally’. The organisation has urged the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Australia to disclose details, including salaries paid, of companies hiring overseas staff on 457 visas for systems administrator and IT support roles.
IT Group exaggerating 457 Visa Problems
Henry Sherrell, a research officer at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy specialises in migration and labour mobility. He has previously worked for the Australian immigration department on the 457 visa program.
Mr Sherrell says skilled migration is a complex issue and sees a number of benefits of the 457 visa scheme.
“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.”
Threats to name and shame so called 457 visa abusers
The organisation has threatened to name and shame any company that it can prove has abused the 457 visa scheme. The IPTA has filed a freedom of information request for the disclosure of businesses receiving 457 visas, including the job roles being filled by foreign workers and the amounts they are getting paid.
CEO of the IPTA, Martin Hale, stated that he wants his organisation’s members to expose alleged abuses of the 457 visa system. He said: “If any claims are substantiated, we intend to alert the immigration department. If the identified 457 abuses are not rectified we will ‘name and shame’ the IT organisations involved to our 7,000 members and the media.”
In an interview with Computerworld, Mr Hale revealed that ‘circumstantial evidence’ supplied by IPTA members was ‘strong’. “We consulted our members and the response has been massive,” Mr Hale said. However, he did concede that many of the organisation’s members were unwilling to name names for fear of reprisals.
Hale stated that members did not want to become whistleblowers, but indicated that three reports of 457 visa abuses ‘looked credible’. He commented that the IPTA would investigate these instances of alleged abuse. He said: “We will approach the employers and if they don’t fix it we will publish some actual instances.”
Mr Hale claims that monitoring of how the 457 visa scheme is used, or abused, by companies is non-existent. He said: “Companies have to specify that a job role has been advertised and they were unsuccessful in finding someone. However, there’s certainly no monitoring procedure in place to verify a company’s claims.”
In December 2016, the Sydney Morning Herald disclosed that the New South Wales (NSW) government had outsourced a number of job roles to multinational organisations, which had recruited 32 foreign workers on 457 visas, prompting the IPTA to speak out.
In February of this year, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a follow up story accusing the government of making 200 workers redundant and said that it was ‘solely down to its contractors to establish whether job vacancies could be filled by the Australian workforce.
Huge rise in 457 visas for IT workers
Without any hard evidence to back up its claims concerning the 457 visa scheme, the IPTA took to sourcing data from the federal government’s Data.gov.au website. According to the IPTA, allocation numbers in relation to 457 visas are disproportionate.
While the number of visas issued in the last 10 years, with the exception of IT, has increased by just 2 percent, there has been a 136 percent rise in the number of 457 visas issued to IT workers.
Examining the data more closely, breaking the numbers down to entry level occupations – including systems administration and IT support – the IPTA discovered the growth rate for approved 457 visas surged by 480 percent between 2005 and 2016.
Hale said that the data points to a high number of local IT organisations in Australia using 457 visas to recruit international workers for entry-level IT vacancies, instead of hiring and training local graduates.
In Hale’s view, IT support roles are one of the top entry points for IT graduates looking to kick-start their career in the industry, but fears that the increased use of 457 visas is stifling them. He said it’s ‘unsurprising that local IT graduates are unable to secure employment in the IT sector.’
In recent years, there has been a slump in the number of students studying IT degrees at Australian institutions. Meanwhile, Hale said the IPTA is ‘very concerned’ about the number of IT firms that are seemingly ‘exploiting’ the 457 visa system at the expense of local workers because they can employ foreign staff on lower wages.
IT is a growth industry and needs migrants on 457 visas
The IPTA said that it recognises IT is a growth industry and understands the need to ‘supplement local candidates with suitably qualified internationals for some specialist roles’. However, the IPTA pointed out that the health service sector is growing, and there is demand for doctors and nurses, but the sector’s reliance on 457 visas has dropped by 20 percent over the last 10 years.
According to Hale, abuse of the 457 visa system has become rife across the IT sector and blames the problem on a ‘lack of significant membership numbers among its industry bodies, which leaves them powerless to lobby for change.’
Hale said: “This would never happen in accounting or the medical fraternity. Their associations would be all over it. They are much more powerful. If the CPA goes to government with a concern, they have 120,000 members. It is the same with the Australian Medical Association, they have enormous clout. Even if all the IT associations got together we would have only small numbers.”