The 457 visa for temporary workers won’t be officially abolished until March 1, but the number granted has already fallen by more than a third – heralding a squeeze on foreign workers by the coalition.
Australian National University researcher Henry Sherrell has found the number of primary 457 visas granted in the 2017 September quarter was down by 35.7 per cent on the same period of 2016.
And the dive was not because some jobs – most famously, “goat farmer” – have been ruled ineligible. In a paper published by the Parliamentary Library, the ANU Development Policy Centre research officer reports only a fifth of the decline in 457s came from the scrapped occupations.
Eight of the top 10 occupations for primary 457 visas had significant double-digit declines. Developer programmers were down by 42 per cent to 350 in the quarter, ICT business analysts plunged 49 per cent to 238, resident medical officers dropped 18 per cent to 436 and the top 457 job, cook, was off 29 per cent to 452.
Given the near-record employment growth last year, the sharp reduction in 457s appears to have nothing to do with demand for labour, but a response by employers and would-be employees to hiring and gaining permanent residency being made more difficult and expensive.
The size of the fall and the breadth of occupations to experience it during a period of very fast employment growth should raise some interesting questions about the nature of the Australian workforce and how 457s have been used.
From March 1, the 651 occupations eligible for 457 visas will be formally replaced by 435 occupations eligible for Temporary Skilled Shortage (TSS) visa, which comes in two flavours: a two-year visa that can be extended only once and offers no pathway to permanent residency; and a four-year visa that can lead to permanent residency. There are only 183 occupations eligible for the four-year visa.