Virginia, US

Another year has almost drawn to an end, and over the past month the 457 visa category has made the media headlines again.  

The opposition Labor party have signalled their intention that in 2017 they will be pushing for a change to the 457 program in an effort to the reduce the impact of foreign workers in industry sectors where unemployment remains high. Based upon the recent response from the Government, we can expect to see some occupations taken off the 457 list, as well as others measures to manage the integrity of the program.

Immigration has also been a hot topic recently with a number of leading Australian think tanks releasing reports on migration, promoting debate on the current migration program and its impact upon the economy and labour markets.

Minor changes to 457 visa program

Over the course of 2016, we have seen minor legislative changes to the 457 program, with a greater focus by the Department of Immigration on initiatives to improve case processing and the quality of decision making. The Department introduced a new tiered processing model in July,  and many large users of the 457 program have taken advantage of their ability to obtain accredited status, which has enabled their “low risk” applications be streamlined and prioritised. To alleviate ongoing caseload pressure across their network, the Department also introduced a new case allocation model to help reduce processing times for non-accredited sponsors. 

Ongoing Concerns

Ongoing concerns remain at the Department with respect to the nomination of certain occupations where integrity issues often arise, or where there is regular compliance enforcement activity against certain business profiles.  With the government looking to reduce the number of occupations from the 457 list, it is possible that some of these occupations may be culled, which range from “professional” to “trade” level roles.

The reduction of time that a 457 visa holder can remain in Australia after their employment ceases from 90 to 60 days was introduced in November to improve the integrity of the program. 457 visa holders still have what would be considered a reasonable time to find alternative employment, obtain another type of visa, or depart Australia.

From November it also became more difficult for certain adult dependent children to be included as part of the family unit on a 457 application, with an upper age limit of 23 being imposed, unless the child is physically incapacitated for work. This change to the definition of “member of family unit” also impacts other family unit members such as widowed parents who previously were often able to be included on applications.

The Government continued with its overall intention of consolidating visa classes, and introduced a new “Temporary Activities Sponsor” class to replace six existing classes, including Training and Research and Entertainment classes. We can expect to see this consolidation plan continue in 2017, as well as expanding the number of visa categories where online lodgement is available.

Finally, as part of its “Supporting Innovation Through Visas” initiative, a new pathway for Entrepreneur’s was introduced by the Government to encourage high calibre entrepreneurs to develop their ideas in Australia; and changes to the skilled migration program were also introduced to enhance residency pathways for certain foreign students completing qualifications in STEM and ICT fields.

What to expect

So we can expect to see 457 visas back on the political agenda early in the New Year once Parliament resumes. On one side we have Labor, and some Independent and Coalition MP’s pushing for a 457 crackdown, and the Government on the other side needing to take a more measured approach that will not only address the concerns of business and the electorate, but also ensure the overall integrity of the 457 program is maintained. Not an easy task in the current political environment.