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Thursday, 03 November 2011 17:27

Govt doubles 457 visa stay to six years


The Gillard Government has re-jigged its 457 visa program, with the Immigration Department speeding up processing times for employers seeking to bring in foriegn workers and doubling to six years the duration of the long-stay visa.

The 457 sub-class of visa targets skilled workers from overseas and is heavily used by the tech sector.

The changes, announced yesterday by Immigation Minister Chris Bowen, will allow accredited employers - generally companies that are large, compliant users of the 457-visa program - to access priority processing to get workers into the country faster.

From November 7, businesses will be able to apply for accreditation that gives them sponsorship approval for six years, rather than the current three, and will guarantee faster processing times for all future 457 nominations and visa applications.

"This new scheme recognises that many Australian businesses have a long history of dealing with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and an excellent record of compliance with workplace and migration laws," Mr Bowen said.

To qualify for the new accreditation, he said businesses would have to meet new benchmarks, and have to make commitments to ensuring at least 75 per cent of their workforce was Australian.

Although the number of active 457 visa holders in Australia has held steady at around 75,000 in the past two years, the number applications for companies for new 457 visas has spiked in the past two years, particularly in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Driven by the mining boom, the number of 457 visa applications in Western Australia in the three months to the end of September doubled. Across Australia, the number of applications for Information Media and Telecommunications skills rose by 27 per cent in the three months to the end of September, compared to the year-ago quarter.

Finite IT Group general manager Duncan Thomson said the changes were good news for the long term health of the tech sector.

"Anything that speeds up processing times is very welcome," Mr Thomson told iTWire. "We are very aware that under the 457 program eventually a lot of these people become permanent residents. And these are highly skilled people, so in terms of the IT industry that's a good thing."

He said as the National Broadband Network roll-out ramped up, the changes could be useful for finding specialist offshore skills.

"A great deal of (these skills) will be found locally, but I would imagine in the numbers they may need that some will come from elsewhere as it (the NBN) ramps up."

"Any roll-out of next-generation technology will generally put a greater demand on specialist skills."

Mr Thomson said the resources boom was driving enormous demand for IT skills in Western Australia, and the changes would be welcome news for mining companies and the IT companies that support them.

"You've got places like WA that are crying out for IT skills, especially as some of these big mining projects are gearing up."

Minister Bowen the guiding principle to these reforms is to better enable our skilled migration program to meet Australia's ongoing - and often changing - skills needs.

"That is, to have a skilled migration program that is responsive to our economic needs and complementing efforts to develop our domestic skills base," Mr Bowen said in a speech to the Australia India Business Council last night.

"Of course, the temporary skilled migration program, the 457 visa, continues to play a vital role in supporting business and meeting immediate skills gaps. Indian citizens now make up the second largest group to use the program, behind the United Kingdom."

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