In February, the government started a review of the 457 visa program. The review is being undertaken by an independent panel chosen for their experience in industry, government and migration.
In 2013 there were 23,420 applications lodged, which was down by 38% from 2012. This was probably a direct result of changes in 2013 that made it much harder for business to sponsor staff.
The review is being undertaken because of the importance of the subclass 457 programme in supporting employers in industries and regions which are experiencing skill shortages, and the potential of the programme to contribute to productivity growth in the Australian economy.
As part of the review process, the Department of Immigration is now receiving submissions. Representatives of the hospitality industry are pushing hard to make it easier to get visas for chefs and cooks. The chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia wants the 457 visa to cover waiters and bar staff, as well as skilled chefs and managers. Foreign workers should be paid the same award rates as Australian staff. And he said kitchen staff did not need to speak English.
The industry also wants to waive English language requirements and remove the $53,900 minimum salary.
The reality is that most of the people working as cooks and chefs, and many of the kitchens, especially in ethnic cuisine, don’t use English at all. The language of the kitchen is the language of the cuisine. It is not appropriate to set the bar so high where there’s no requirement for English in the workplace, particularly with cooks and chefs.
Senior officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have said that regional tourism is suffering and urgently requires workers in hotels, pubs and restaurants. As early as next year, there will be a shortage of 56,000 workers in the hospitality industry. They have therefore backed industry calls for increased flexibility of the 457 work visas and working holiday visas.
Currently, a IELTS test score of 5 for reading, writing, speaking and listening is required. There is a good chance that this requirement will be relaxed as a result of the review.
The review will also consider changes to the following areas:
- The list of eligible occupations
- In what circumstances should 457 visa applicants be required to undertake an English language test
- What types of organisations should be allowed to become sponsors? How effective are the current restrictions on newly established business and overseas business sponsors?
- Application fees and associated costs
- Labour market testing and advertising requirements for sponsors
- Are the current training benchmarks appropriate and/or adequate for ensuring that employers provide training opportunities to Australians
- The minimum salary required
- Is the application of a minimum salary requirement set at the appropriate level
- Whether skills assessments are needed to ensure 457 visa holders have the skill for the nominated position