The facts: understanding 457s and temporary work visas

What is a 457 visa?

A 457 visa is a temporary visa allowing someone to work in Australia for four years.

It is designed to allow employers to deal with skill shortages, and so can only be granted to workers with a specified skill level. After the four years expires they can apply for another four year temporary work visa or for a permanent visa.

What industries are 457 workers concentrated in?

Altogether there were 90,280 workers on 457 visas at May 31 this year. Yet despite all the talk about how they are taking jobs in WA, just a quarter of new 457 visa grants were made in that state in the last year. Fully 67 per cent of all new applications were for occupations classed as managers and professionals.

Construction topped the list for the number of 457 visas per industry last year for the first time, but the 8410 workers in construction were not that far ahead of the 7330 in health care and social assistance and 6940 in information media and communications. Construction and mining together made up only 22.8 per cent of visa applications granted.

The number of 457 workers is growing, with a 46 per cent rise in visas granted in the last year. But the number of permanent migrants has been growing too: up 12.5 per cent or 21,000 people in the last two years.

Are there other forms of temporary work visa?

There are separate types of temporary visas for international students, overseas tourists such as backpackers and New Zealand residents that allow them all to work in Australia on a temporary basis. Including 457 workers there were over one million temporary workers living in Australia at the end of 2010.

In a speech earlier this year journalist Peter Mares estimated that together, “these four groups now account for about ten per cent of the total workforce.”

This shows that compared to the 190,000 permanent migrant visas to be granted this year, temporary migrants make up a very substantial portion of Australia’s migrant workforce.

Can 457 workers gain permanent residency?

For many workers a 457 visa is a path to staying in Australia permanently. According to research by journalist Peter Mares as many as half the number of those who arrive on 457 visas in any given year go on to become permanent residents.

Over 40,000 former 457 visa workers became permanent migrants in both the financial years 2009-10 and 2010-11.

How do 457 workers have less rights than other migrants?

Workers on 457 visas are particularly vulnerable because they rely on their employer to keep their visa. If they lose their job they have only 28 days to find another one—otherwise they can be deported.

If they hope to stay in Australia permanently they are especially reliant on their employers. All this puts them at risk of exploitation.

Legally 457 workers must receive the same wages and conditions as any other worker at their workplace with the same skill level. But there have been many cases where employers have ignored this provision to force 457 workers to accept lower wages.

How are Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs) different?

EMAs are a new way for employers to bring out large numbers of 457 workers for individual mining projects.

They are only available for projects with over $2 billion of capital expenditure and a peak workforce of over 1500 people.

They allow employers to override the usual rules that 457 visas can only be granted for workers who meet specified skill levels. Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill iron ore project was the first to gain approval for an EMA.


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