Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced this week that the 457 visa – which allowed migrants (including many Irish) to work in the country for four years, after which they could apply for permanent residency – is to be scrapped. In a Facebook post, Turnbull noted that “we’re putting jobs first and we’re putting Australians first by abolishing 457 visas.” By March 2018, the 457 visa will have been replaced by a two or four-year Temporary Skills Shortage visa.
The announcement has been grabbing the attention of people with an eye on moving Down Under for work, but what is (or was) the 457 visa and what will its abolition and replacement actually mean for Irish migrants?
What was the 457?
The 457 visa programme allowed Australian businesses to sponsor and employ foreign workers for up to four years, but only in skilled roles and in the event of a “genuine” shortage of Australian workers for those jobs.
There was no cap on the numbers that could take part in the visa programme, or on the number of times workers with this visa could travel in and out of the country, and foreign workers could bring their family members to work or study in Australia.
What will replace it?
The programme will be replaced with another visa programme – a two-year temporary visa specifically designed to recruit the “best and the brightest” in the national interest, with the aim of better targeting skills shortages.
The number of eligible occupations under the Temporary Skills Shortage visa will be reduced from 651 to 435, and a further 59 occupations will be subject to certain conditions. More stringent conditions will apply, including previous work experience and stronger English language proficiency.
Workers won’t be eligible for permanent residency at the end of the new two-year programme (a second and more stringent four-year visa provides a path to permanent residency), but according to Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, the 95,000 foreign workers currently in the country on a 457 work permit will be allowed to apply for residency.
How could it affect Irish workers?
Australia has long been a destination for Irish workers seeking better employment prospects, so will the visa changes have a dramatic impact on Irish migrants?
Writing in The Irish Times this week David Greene, president of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce Greenland chapter, noted his belief that many Irish economic migrants shouldn’t be affected, with most covered under independent permanent residency visas. Thousands will still be eligible for the new temporary visa.
“Many of these people will still be catered for by other independent permanent residency visas, if they have good qualifications and demonstrable relevant work experience in areas where there are labour shortages,” he says. “The changes today will only affect people who don’t have the basic required skills to qualify for independent sponsorship, and need an employer to nominate them, i.e. those who are less qualified, or have less experience or poorer English language skills.
New Zealand has also followed Australia’s lead, tightening its immigration rules for skilled work visas. These changes include a new minimum income of NZ$49,000 (€31,950) for those entering the country as part of the Skilled Migrant Category.