On the Heels of U.S. H-1B Visa Reform, Australia to End Its 457 Work Visa Program

The elimination could make it more difficult for noncitizen engineers to get jobs on the continent

5 May 2017

To help ensure more jobs for Australians, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is doing away with the country’s 457 visa program, similar to the H-1B program in the United States. Turnbull made a public announcement that the 457 visas have been exploited as a way to hire temporary workers at lower wages, costing citizens their jobs.

“Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs,” he says. “We’ll no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”

The program, in which 95,000 workers currently hold work visas, will be replaced next year by the new Temporary Skill Shortage (TTS) visa. The TTS program will reduce the number of qualifying occupations, and workers must meet a certain standard of English language fluency. Employers will have the option to hire workers for a two-year period, instead of four years, with the opportunity to renew. The new program will go into effect in March.

Those who already hold 457 visas will be able to complete their assignments in the country. The TTS visa will likely impact engineers who aspire to work in Australia.

THE TALENT SHORTAGE

The Engineers Australia association and the Australian Industry Group, which represents business interests, welcomed the changes. Innes Willox, chief executive of AIG, issued a statement that says “The new program will assist in identifying genuine skill shortages and guarding against often opportunistic spikes in applications for vague or nonessential skill categories.” He is also chair of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration and of the Migration Council Australia.

“It's important, where possible, [that] our employers first look locally and train up local employees before considering other options,” Arthur Sinodinos, minister for the Department of Industry, Innovation, and Science, said in a news release. However, he does acknowledge that Australia has a skills gap in technical specialist roles.

The State of the Engineering Profession 2017,” published this year by Engineers Australia, shows that in the past two years the number of students being accepted to the country’s university engineering programs has fallen substantially. The report says that will lead to a broken pipeline of future engineers, and graduates from the country's universities have been “less than successful” in emerging areas, like robotics, nanotechnology, and mechatronics. It calls for an overhaul of the engineering education system.

The report adds that bringing in non-Australian engineers isn’t a solution because oftentimes they too lack the necessary qualifications.

THE FLIP SIDE

The report also notes that 57 percent of the continent’s engineers were born elsewhere and now reside in Australia through the permanent migration program, and not through the 457 visa program. It states: “It is unlikely that Australia will ever be in a position to do without skilled migration. [To do so] requires us to do more to develop our own engineers and make best use of the skilled migrants willing and able to move to our shores.”

Learn More