Australian marketing and research industries question government plans to abolish 457 visas

Industry gives PM's decision to get ride of the foreign workers program and plans for a replacement scheme mixed reviews, with the Research Council of Australia set to challenge the revised eligible skills list

The Australian Government is abolishing the 457 Visa program in a move the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, says is about putting Australian citizens first for local jobs.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Turnbull said the Government was doing away with the 457 Visa scheme, replacing it with a new temporary visa designed to recruit the “best and brightest” candidates that will be backed up with a reduced number of eligible occupational categories, tougher English language requirements, and a focus on genuine areas of skills shortage.

The news comes several months after immigration and border protection minster, Peter Dutton, announced the Government was reviewing the 457 scheme and the more than 650 occupations listed as eligible under the program because of the swelling numbers of visas used to fill jobs across Australia.

“We putting Australians first,” Turnbull said. “We are the most successful multicultural nation in the world. We are an immigration nation. But the fact remains, Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs.

“We are abolishing the 457 Visas that bring temporary foreign workers into our country. We’ll no longer allow 457 Visas to be passports for jobs that could and should go to Australians.”

The new-look Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa, will be introduced in March 2018 and more specifically look at areas where there are skills shortages, such as regional Australia. It also includes new restrictions around previous work experience, better English language proficiency, and mandatory labour market testing, Turnbull said.There's also a minimum market salary rate to ensure foreign workers cannot undercut local labour costs, it stated.

The TSS program will be divided into two types: A Short-Term stream of up to two years, and a Medium-Term stream of up to four years. The current 457 program allows a holder to stay for our to four years.

In a live press briefing, the Government said some exemptions will apply for existing 457 Visa holders, including for employers in regional Australia, who will continue to have access to occupations under the temporary and permanent visa concessions. The reduced list of occupations eligible under the scheme comes into effect tomorrow (19 April 2017).

The Prime Minister also announced plans for a new training fund to fill local skills gaps. Further details should be announced in coming days and weeks, he said. The Government will also be looking to strengthen requirements for employers to contribute to training Australian workers.

The marketing industry is one of the most prolific users of the 457 Visa scheme. According to Department of Immigration and Border Protection figures, marketing specialist (3460) was the third-most nominated occupation for primary visa holders after cook (6770) and chef (4870) as at 30 June 2015.

In his statement in December, Minister Dutton said the 457 Visa program had grown from 68,000 primary visa holders in 2010 to more than 110,000 today.

However, in its latest figures released in September 2016, the department reported a 7.8 per cent dip in 457 visa holders to 95,758. The highest percentage of visas was issued to individuals working in the information media and communications sector (16.3 per cent). Marketing specialist was again the third-highest nomination occupation for primary 457 Visa holders over that period.

Digital agency, Gruden, was quick to express concerns around the abolishment of 457 visas and warned jobs could go offshore as a result.

“As a technology company, Gruden has been heavily dependent on 457 visas to provide the top quality, qualified talent we need to deliver digital transformation to our clients,” its CEO, Tim Parker, said in a statement.
“With a number of our staff on such visas, we applaud the grandfathering of existing 457s, as we do the intent to provide training to nurture local talent.

“However, given that many countries have been teaching coding in kindergarten for a decade or more, Australia is well behind in the tech talent stakes. Therefore, we will continue to require imported talent in the short term, and hope the new arrangements recognise this need."

“Otherwise the imperative to offshore our software development could increase at the expense of the local economy.”

ADMA, AMI give cautious reviews

ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster, agreed the current system was broken and didn’t necessarily ensure the specific skillset needs of the market are being met. While the industry has overindexed when it comes to using the 457 program to bring in marketing skills, she argued the lack of criteria around the specific types of “marketing specialists” coming in under the scheme weren’t adequately filling the data, digital and technology gaps that exist.

Sangster particularly welcomed news of investment into training and development of local talent, but warned the devil is in the detail.

“It’s about time – there’s a commitment from the Government about being a digital economy, yet no plan in place to have enough people to do that,” she told CMO. “I’m hopeful of the push around making sure we have the access to skills we need for our digital future.

“But there’s not enough detail on the replacement program and we need to make sure that as an industry, we can continue to operate under it.”

Australian Marketing Institute CEO, Lee Tonitto, expected the regulatory change to increase the war for marketing talent and accelerate Australia's need to grow marketing skills and capabilities.

"It’s important to know what skills are required in this high-velocity business landscape, to equip yourself with those skills and keep them up-to-date," she said. Tonitto pointed to AMI's new education Framework and Assessment, aimed at giving businesses the power to assess the current skills of teams to determine skills gaps and opportunities for development.

"Business success depends on building the skills and marketing intelligence of marketing teams to face the ever changing and ever increasing needs of customers."

Research industry set to challenge revised eligible skills list

Meanwhile, the Research Industry Council of Australia (RICA) is planning to challenge the removal of two positions from the revised 457 visa eligible skilled occupation list: Market research analyst and research and development manager.

In a statement released on 20 April, the association argued both critical skill sets are relied upon by the Australian market and social research Industry. Such roles help with political polling and television ratings, to surveys of customer satisfaction, the development of products and services, and studies on public health, income and labour dynamics.

RICA claims to represents approximately 80 per cent of market and social research organisations in Australia and about 4000 full-time employees.

“With the industry undergoing technological change and the opportunity for unparalleled growth, we simply can’t afford to lose the highly skilled talent we currently recruit from overseas,” said managing director of The Leading Edge, Lee Naylor, a member of the Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO).

“These people are not taking jobs from Australians but rather complementing the talent we already employ here. As an industry, we have invested in local talent and training, but we need overseas talent to ensure our local companies can compete on the global stage.”

AMSRO executive director, Sarah Campbell, also noted the talent shortage for particular research positions nationally and said some jobs are advertised for 12 months before being filled by a 457 visa employee.

“The removal of these two research positions from the eligible skilled occupation list is likely to hit our industry hard and RICA will be heading to Canberra to request that they be reinstated,” she said.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

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