Foreign workers beginning to fill the labour shortage void

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 23rd July 2008

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, yesterday released new data showing a 27 per cent increase in the temporary skilled migration (subclass 457 visa) program for 2007-08.

Senator Evans said the rise in the subclass 457 visa grants highlighted the importance of the program in delivering skilled labour to employers across a wide range of professions and industries. The largest increase was, not surprisingly, seen in Western Australia where the mining boom has left many businesses struggling to find qualified staff to meet their needs. The state is now the second biggest user, only trailing New South Wales.

It was discovered that Retail Trade had a 58% increase in temporary skilled migrant visas to a total of 1,940, while Manufacturing witnessed a 26% rise to 5,480 and Accommodation, Cafes and Restaurants had a 22% increase to 3,210. There are now 2,090 chefs and 1,940 cooks on temporary skilled visas in Australia, with a 35% increase in the number of visas for chefs. NSW, Victoria, Queeensland and WA have the lion’s share, and it was in Western Australia where the greatest increase was seen. The number rose by 52%, highlighting the great demand for skilled chefs in the state.

Senator Evans said recently that the ‘skills crisis’ may be turning into a ‘labour crisis’ and the skilled migrants program is likely to become more popular with industry in coming years. He advised that the uncapped scheme is demand driven and proving vital to ease the national skills shortage at a time when the unemployment rate is low.

However, the Minister added that the program is not a cheap labour scheme and the Rudd Government will not tolerate the exploitation of foreign workers. “Although incidents of migrant worker exploitation are the exception rather than the rule, the Government is moving to improve the protections in place to prevent exploitation of temporary skilled workers from overseas,” Senator Evans said.

A Bill to amend the Migration Act (1958) is planned for September and it is proposed that a range of measures be introduced. In addition, industrial relations expert Barbara Deegan is currently examining the adequacy of measures to protect 457 visa holders from exploitation and in order to improve the integrity of the 457 scheme.Ms Deegan is examining Minimum Salary Level provisions, English language requirements, health and safety protections, training requirements, and the opportunities for Labour Agreements to play a greater role in the program.

The subclass 457 visa enables employers to employ skilled overseas workers to fill nominated positions in Australia for a period of between three months and four years.

The complete summary report for 2007-08 is available at: