The Turnbull government will reduce the amount of time foreign workers on 457 visas can stay in Australia following their employment, in a bid to tip the scales back in favour of Australian jobseekers.
Hot on the heels of Labor’s proposed 457 visa crackdown, foreign workers on 457 visas will now be allowed to remain in the country for only 60 days after the cessation of their employment, instead of 90.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the change, to begin on Saturday, would limit visa holders’ ability to look for another job or enter informal work arrangements after their official employment had ended.
“This change is about reducing competition from overseas workers for those Australians who are actively looking for work,” Mr Dutton said on Wednesday.
“The government values the contribution made by the many skilled persons who work in Australia on 457 visas, but where there is an Australian worker ready, willing and able to perform a role, it is the government’s policy that they have priority.”
Labor extended the period to 90 days from 28 as part of its overhaul of the 457 visa system towards the end of the Rudd/Gillard era. At the time, Labor said the extension would “allow workers more time to get their families’ affairs into order if they’re moving home, or to look for another job”.
Mr Dutton said that decision was “yet another example of Labor selling Australian workers short”. But the extension to 90 days had been recommended in 2008 by industrial relations expert Barbara Deegan, who said a shorter time frame restricted a worker’s ability to change sponsors.
Wednesday’s announcement follows Labor’s bid to curb 457 visas and comes in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, where he successfully exploited anger about lost blue-collar jobs in the US rust belt.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said the government needed to prioritise “building Australian, buying Australian and employing Australian”, rather than a temporary visa system which “sees cheap labour being imported from overseas undercutting Australian jobs”.
That prompted a swift rebuke from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who accused Mr Shorten of “breathtaking” hypocrisy for granting a record number of 457 visas while he was employment minister in the Gillard government. “He is an Olympic-grade 457 visa issuer,” Mr Turnbull said.
Government statistics show 68,480 such visas were granted in 2012-13. Labor implemented its own 457 crackdown in 2013 after then prime minister Julia Gillard said the system was “out of control” and failed to “put Aussie workers first”.
The number of 457 visas granted fell to 51,940 in 2013-14, 51,130 in 2014-15 and 45,400 in the most recent financial year. Mr Dutton accused Labor of mismanaging the program and said the reduction was “not an accident” but the result of “the Coalition cleaning up Labor’s mess”.
The 457 visa allows a foreign worker and their family to come to Australia for up to four years after being sponsored by a specific employer to fill a position for which they cannot find an Australian or permanent resident.
Mr Dutton said the latest changes were gazetted in October, thereby implying they were not a response to the success of Mr Trump’s protectionist campaign or Labor’s vow earlier this week to reform the 457 system.