What Will 457 Visa Changes Mean for Industry?

Following the recent announcement of changes affecting holders of a 457 visa, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed the government will be condensing the list of occupations eligible for the visa. What will these efforts to change the future of Australia’s workforce mean for upcoming projects?

In previous posts, we have focused on infrastructure projects for Queensland’s transportation market and rail networks. Nationally, the Australian Government has committed over $50 billion towards funding infrastructure up to 2020, with 156 major projects currently being managed across the country. To complete all of these projects to budget on time, the country will need a huge amount of skilled workers ? will Australian workers be able to step up and meet demand in the absence of skilled expats?

Over the years, the 457 visa for temporary skilled workers has been aimed at addressing skill gaps in Australia and attracting expertise from overseas to help boost Australia’s economy. The forthcoming visa changes mean foreign workers in Australia will only be able to stay for 60 days should their employment end, instead of the current period of 90 days. For workers, this means insane pressures to line up another position within the two months after their contract ends.

Perhaps of more concern, is the government’s announcement recently that they are proposing to shorten the list of occupations eligible to receive sponsorship under the 457 program. The shortlist of positions for potential removal will impact the engineering industry in the years to come. Occupations flagged for potential removal include:

  • Chemical Engineer
  • Civil Engineer
  • Geotechnical Engineer
  • Quantity Surveyor
  • Structural Engineer
  • Transport Engineer
  • Electronics Engineer
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Production or Plant Engineer
  • Aeronautical Engineer
  • Agricultural Engineer
  • Biomedical Engineer
  • Engineering Technologist
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Production Manager (Mining)
  • Land Economist
  • Ship’s Engineer
  • Surveyor
  • Cartographer
  • Other Spatial Scientist
  • Naval Architect

Over the coming months, commentary may guide those of us curious to understand how and why these occupations have been chosen and if a skill shortage is coming our way. Ask any company working on transport projects especially in NSW their thoughts on whether there is enough engineering expertise available in country and I?m pretty sure I know what their answer will be.

Perhaps the government may have taken into account the amount of Engineering professionals struggling to find work from the mining and resource sector. On the surface, yes there is a lot of available engineering expertise, however it now seems for them that trying to get a gig on an urban transportation project is near impossible. Consultancies involved in transport projects may find stark contrasts in the thought processes behind mining projects ? which are less cost sensitive, focused on speed of delivery and often ?over engineered?. There are exceptions to this line of thinking of course, but not many. Over the past few years, preferences have leaned toward bringing in experts from overseas rather than using Australian ‘transferable? skills.

Either way, industry will still need to be supplemented by 457 visa workers, especially in the major cities considering the sheer amount of road, rail and civil infrastructure projects proposed throughout Australia. Do we have enough engineering manpower available in Australia to successfully bring these jobs in?

Over the next few months as the proposed changes to the visa requirements are finalised, the challenge for employers will be finding the right people to fulfill roles and acquiring the specific expertise required to roll out the projects powering Australia’s transportation boom.

It would be good to get people’s thoughts on this and whether this is the right course of action to take. The cynic in me says this hasn’t been thought through properly and maybe political positioning is viewed as being more important than the reality of the situation. Is this the best move for industry right now? What does this mean for you in 2017? Leave a comment below ? let’s get some discussion going. 

– Paul Hansford, Principal Consultant

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