Last week, the federal Immigration Minster released a draft of new regulations affecting temporary skilled workers in Australia – often known as 457 visa holders.

These changes flow on from a review conducted last year by Barabara Deegan, who has a background in industrial relations.  Her final report is available at this link.

This visa class has been the subject of a lot of controversy in recent years, much of it driven by concerns raised by some trade unions about worker safety, as well as alleged impacts on the wages and conditions of workers in their industries.

The subclass 457 visa is demand driven, and it is worth noting figures released by the Minister which show that “application rates for Subclass 457 visas in January 2009 were 31 per cent lower than in September 2008, reflecting the change in economic conditions. The declines were most pronounced in the construction, mining and manufacturing sectors.

This is a rapid but not unexpected drop and is consistent with long-standing arguments that large numbers of temporary skilled workers had to be found from overseas due to skill and labour shortages, rather than to undercut wages payable to workers already in Australia.

New obligations are being proposed for employers in areas such as:

• Payment of a minimum salary to Subclass 457 visa holders
• Payment of return travel costs for visa holders and their spouses
• Stronger legal requirements to cooperate with inspectors.

The Minister Chris Evans specifically states that these changes “will effectively make them a more expensive option for employers”.

But the Minister also says that the draft regulations “propose removing the requirement for employers to cover health care costs for temporary overseas workers. Instead, Subclass 457 visa holders will be required to take out private health insurance at their own expense and cover any school expenses for their children.

This obviously reduces a potential cost for employers, while making it significantly more expensive for migrants who seek to come to Australia to work – particularly those with a family.

The Minister has indicated that “a panel of industry, union and state government representatives will now begin assessing the proposed new regulations to provide feedback to government.

The process of considering changes to this particular aspect of our migration laws regularly takes advice from unions, industry and governments.  However, there rarely seems to be a voice provided for people representing the views and experiences of migrants and migrant families.

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