ITPA threatens to ‘out’ abusers of 457 visa scheme
- 29 March, 2017 11:29
The IT Professionals Association (ITPA), which represents some 7000 IT workers in systems administration and IT support roles, has called for greater transparency in the 457 visa scheme. The organisation says it has evidence that the scheme is being abused to hire people on lower salaries and into roles that could easily be filled locally.
ITPA wants the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to publish details — including salaries paid — of organisations hiring workers on 457 visas in the roles of systems administrator and IT support.
It has threatened to ‘out’ any organisation that it can demonstrate has abused the 457 visa scheme, and has submitted a freedom of information request for details on the companies getting 457 visas, including for what positions and how much people are being paid.
The organisation’s CEO, Martin Hale, says he wants ITPA members to advise him of examples of alleged abuses they encounter. “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 7000 members and the media,” Hale said.
He told Computerworld that anecdotal evidence from members was strong. “We asked our members and we got a massive response. A lot were not prepared to name names because of fear of reprisals.They did not want to be a whistleblower, but we have three that look credible,” he said.
“We will have to investigate these. We will approach the employers and if they don’t fix it we will publish some actual instances.”
He said there were no checks on how companies used, or abused, the 457 visa scheme: “Companies have to stipulate that they have advertised a position and were unable to find anyone. There is certainly no checking by associations to see whether those claims are valid or not.”
The ITPA’s move comes in the wake of a Sydney Morning Herald report in December that said the NSW government had outsourced a number of roles to multinational companies, which had hired 32 workers on 457 visas. A follow up article in February claimed the government had laid off a total of 200 workers and said that that it was solely up to its contractors to determine whether roles could be filled by locally.
Massive rise in IT 457 visas
In the absence of any specific data on the 457 scheme and in support of its claims, ITPA says data extracted from the federal government’s Data.gov.au website shows that while the number of 457 visas issued over the last decade (excluding IT) has risen by just 2 per cent, there has been a 136 per cent rise in IT 457 visas.
“Breaking down the numbers further to specific entry level occupations such as systems administration and IT support reveals that the growth rate for 457 visas granted blows out by over 480 percent over the decade of 2005/06 - 2015/16,” ITPA says.
Hale said these figured suggested many local IT organisations appeared to be using 457 visas to hire international staff to work in entry-level IT support positions rather than hiring and developing local graduates.
“Traditionally, IT support roles have been one of the main entry points for IT graduates to get a career started in the industry”, Hale said.
“With the growing number of people now being brought in on 457 visas to undertake these roles it is no surprise local IT graduates cannot find work, and that the number of students studying IT degrees at Australian tertiary institutions has dropped in the last decade.”
He added: “We are also very concerned about the growing number of IT organisations that appear to be exploiting the 457 visa system to displace local workers with internationally-recruited IT staff on much lower wages than would be otherwise applicable.
“The ITPA understands that IT is a growth industry and that therefore there is some need to supplement local candidates with suitably qualified internationals for some specialist roles. However, the health services sector is also growing and the number of 457 visas granted to health professionals (doctors, nurses etc.) has decreased by over 20 percent in the same ten year period.”
IT bodies lack lobbying clout
Hale suggested that the issue of 457 abuse was a particular problem in the IT industry because its industry bodies lacked significant membership numbers, and hence lobbying power.
“This would never happen in accounting or the medical fraternity. Their associations would be all over it,” he said. “The 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 Assocation, they have enormous clout. Even if all the IT associations got together we would have only small numbers.”
The ACS, the largest association for IT professionals has about 22,000 members out of about 130,000 IT professionals in Australia. However Hales said this was not a reflection on the ACS, rather on IT professionals in general: “Worldwide, IT professionals do not join associations.”
A long history of 457 visa problems
The 457 visa program has been a sore point with the IT industry for several years.
In 2014 the then assistant minister for immigration and border protection, Senator Michaelia Cash, announced an independent review of the 457 visa programme.
The review committee was required to examine the level of non-compliance, to examine whether the 457 visa requirements balanced the needs of business with the need to ensure integrity in the programme and the appropriateness of the current compliance and sanctions.
The Australian Computer Society (ACS) lodged a submission noting its timeliness following what it said had been “significant long-running debates in the media and online about 457 visas in the ICT sector and a view that this sub-class of visa is being misused to support the migration of ICT professionals for jobs that could or should have been available for the existing Australian workforce.”
It claimed also to have feedback from individuals of employer abuse of the 457 visa scheme. “Typically this feedback is where employers are perceived to have retrenched older ICT workers and replaced them with ‘cheap’ 457 skills due to perceived short-term cost and productivity drivers,” ACS said.
While not discounting these claims it noted the difficulty given the limitations of published data on 457 and ICT occupations as defined by the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO).
Also ACS noted that, while the ICT sector was the third largest user of 457 visas by industry, it was likely to be the largest by occupation because ICT occupations are spread across many industry classifications.
Its submission also took issue with the fact that 457 visas went in many cases to overseas nationals already resident in Australia. “Twenty six per cent of all 457 visa grants in ICT occupations went to persons already in Australia,” ACS said.
“While the overall onshore rate of the 457 program (43 percent) is higher than for ICT, it is still significant when compared to the number of domestic ICT graduates each year and that our graduates must therefore compete with around 3,000 foreign nationals receiving 457 visas each year and who are already in Australia – many already working for their 457 sponsor.”
The ACS called for the skills requirements for 457 visa recipients to be strengthened and for tougher obligations on employers to test the local market before applying for 457 visas for ICT roles.
Hale said that, as far as he was aware, the government had done nothing to address the ACS’s concerns.
Computerworld sought comment from ACS on the 457 visa issue but we were able to get only a written statement from CEO Andrew Johnson. He said: “Skilled migration in all its forms should be a source of competitive advantage for any country. It should not be at the expense of the domestic labour market and attracting full workforce participation.”