Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaelia Cash announced the reforms yesterday following the completion of an independent review she commissioned into the visa program last year.
The review was launched after union and Labor claims of widespread rorting of the system by employers at the expense of Australian workers. But the review discredited those claims, finding just a small number of cases where employers had misused the system. As such, it has made recommendations to reward those who use the program appropriately and punish those who don't.
Cash said most of the reforms would be adopted by government, at the delight of the AMMA.
"Despite shrill and overstated claims by some unions and the former ALP government, the 457 visa review panel found no evidence to suggest unlawful or exploitative misuse of Australia's skilled migration programmes beyond a tiny minority," AMMA executive director of policy and public affairs Scott Barklamb said.
"The federal government has today (March 18) taken a sound and considered approach to improving the accessibility and operation of the 457 visa program, including ensuring robust safeguards are in place to uphold the integrity and lawful use of temporary skilled migration in Australia.
"In adopting most of the recommendations from an independent review of the 457 visa system in 2014, the newly announced changes will deliver a more streamlined process for responsible employers to access overseas skills where there is a genuine local shortage, and also strengthen efforts to identify and prosecute the minority who misuse the system."
Pro-457 reforms include streamlining processes for sponsoring businesses by cutting red tape and costs.
English language competencies testing will also be made more practical and the market salary threshold will be lowered from $250,000 to $180,000, eliminating the need for employers to demonstrate market salary for higher paid roles.
At the same time, the review recommended tougher measures and a penalty system for those thinking of misusing the program.
"The government will introduce a new penalty making it unlawful for sponsors to receive payment in return for sponsoring a worker for a 457 visa," Cash said.
"The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will work collaboratively with the Australian Taxation Office to cross check records to ensure that workers on 457 visas are receiving their nominated salary and are not undercutting Australian workers.
"Further, we will proactively prosecute and name and shame offenders exploiting overseas workers and misusing the programme."
One of the hiccups remains around market labour testing, which the government will uphold against the review's recommendation and despite calls from industry to drop the measure, which was introduced by Labor in 2013 to force companies to prove they put Australians first in their talent search to plug their skills needs.
"AMMA is disappointed that the government is not adopting the review panel's recommendation to remove the ALP's labour market testing provisions, which create additional paperwork with no practical benefit or justification," AMMA executive Scott Barklamb said.
Another point of concern is the government's intention to reform employers' contributions to training the Australian workforce, which would see the government take ownership of that money through an imposed levy. While still under consultation, the plan would replace the existing requirement where employers of 457 visa workers must spend at least 1% or 2% of annual payroll on training the local workforce.
"The current system works well in balancing 457 visa use with appropriate training for local workers," Barklamb said.
"A ‘per visa' levy rather than an annual contribution risks penalising those AMMA members who invest heavily in training and apprenticeship programs as part of their regular business model and will no longer be able to offset existing training expenditure.
"AMMA welcomes the government's willingness to consult further over this issue and will engage in future opportunities to explain our concerns with the training fund proposal in detail."
The government has begun introducing the reforms and expects the rollout to be completed by the end of the year.