Overview of temporary visa programs
The assumption that Australia is solely a country of permanent
settlement is now outdated.
Labour mobility is a key feature of globalisation and has led to a dramatic
increase in the global migration for work.
Within Australia, the increasing reliance on temporary (as opposed to
permanent) migration marks a transformation in the nature of Australia's
migration program away from previous assumptions that migrants to Australia
would become permanent residents and citizens.
Australia's approach to skilled migration has undergone significant
change in the last 20 years, most notably with the introduction in 1996 of the Temporary
Work (Skilled) (Subclass 457) Program (457 visa program).
As the terms of reference for this inquiry make clear, the committee was
directed to examine the impact of the full range Australia's temporary work
visa programs on the Australian labour market and on temporary work visa
The value of the broad scope of the inquiry was reaffirmed during 2015
as two separate media investigations exposed a range of exploitative practices
associated with the employment of temporary migrant visa holders other than 457
First, on 4 May 2015, an investigation by the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation's Four Corners program revealed exploitation of certain
groups of migrant workers, many on Working Holiday Maker (WHM) (417 and 462)
visas, in the meat processing and horticulture industries. Issues included the
underpayment of wages, long working hours, and sub-standard living conditions.
Unscrupulous labour hire contractors were implicated in many of the instances
of non-compliance with Australia's workplace laws.
Then, on 31 August 2015, a joint investigation by Four Corners
and Fairfax Media revealed the deliberate falsification of employment records
by employers (franchisees) and the systemic underpayment of the wages and
entitlements of international students working on temporary visas in many
7-Eleven convenience stores across Australia.
The inquiry therefore considered not only dedicated visas that
facilitate temporary migrant work such as the 457 visa program and the Seasonal
Worker program (subclass 416 Special Program visa), but also a range of
temporary visas that have work rights attached to them including New Zealand
(subclass 444), Student (subclasses 570 to 576), Temporary Graduate (subclass
485), and Working Holiday Maker (417 and 462) visas.
The plethora of temporary visas with work rights attached each raise
their own specific and related issues including impacts on the Australian
labour market, exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers, non-compliance by
employers with workplace laws, and gaps in the regulatory system.
However, the interaction between the various temporary visa programs also
raises fundamental questions for Australian society, including the potential unintended
consequences of a growing cohort of indefinitely temporary migrants.
Given the over-arching aspect of the interaction between the various temporary
visa programs, and the broader context that it gives this report, these matters
are covered later in this chapter.
The notion of 'indefinitely' temporary suggests that the terms 'temporary
migrant work', 'temporary work visa programs' and 'temporary work visa holders'
invite further analysis. Associate Professor Joo-Cheong Tham defines temporary
migrant work as 'work performed by those who have a limited right of residence in
Australia' and notes:
Temporary migrant workers are only 'temporary' in the sense that
they have a limited right of residence. They are not necessarily 'temporary' in
terms of the length of their residence in Australia – many of them would have lived
in this country for years. Neither are temporary migrant workers, according to this
definition, necessarily 'temporary' in terms of their intention to continue
residing in Australia – many aspire to secure permanent residence in this
country. Further, reliance on such workers is not necessarily 'temporary' – many
key sectors like hospitality and agriculture heavily rely upon temporary migrant
workers. These enduring aspects of temporary migrant work in Australia make it apt
to speak of the 'permanence of temporary migration'.
Temporary migrant work also includes 'work performed by migrants who have
no legal right to participate in the Australian labour market, for example, tourists
and those with an irregular status'.
The committee acknowledges that much of the policy focus to date on
temporary visas has been focussed specifically on the 457 visa program. By
examining the range of temporary visas with work rights, this report shines a
light on hitherto less explored aspects of temporary migration policy and makes
recommendations across a range of areas.
This chapter therefore begins by providing an overview of the various
temporary migration visas with associated work rights. Next, it outlines
various labour agreements under which temporary migrant workers can be brought
into Australia. It then summarises the various reviews of the 457 visa program
and the key recommendations made by those reviews. The Northern Australia White
Paper is briefly considered. The chapter finishes by exploring the implications
that arise from the interactions between Australia's various temporary visa
Temporary visas with associated
work rights—an overview
This section gives a brief overview of the various visa programs with
work rights attached, beginning with the 457 visa program.
457 visa program
The 457 visa program allows skilled workers to come to Australia and
work for an approved business for up to four years. The joint submission from
the Department of Employment, the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection (DIBP), the Department of Education and Training (DET), the
Department of Industry and Science, the Department of Social Services (DSS),
the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) and Safe Work Australia (the Australian
Government Departments' submission) states that the 457 visa program:
...enables employers to address short to medium term workforce needs
by sponsoring skilled overseas workers on a temporary basis to fill positions
where suitably skilled Australian citizens or permanent residents cannot be
The three regulatory phases of business sponsorship instituted at the
inception of the 457 visa program remain today:
approval of the employer as a business sponsor;
approval of the employer's nomination of the position; and
the grant of a 457 visa to the worker.
The Australian Government Departments' submission notes that the 457
visa program is uncapped and driven by employer demand and that:
The flexibility of the programme is beneficial to the
Australian economy, contributing to productivity by responding to skills gaps
in the Australian labour market.
The employer-driven element of the 457 program and the claims of
flexibility and responsiveness stand in contrast to the permanent migration intake
which is determined and capped on an annual basis by government. The planned
permanent migration intake for 2014–15 is 190 000 (128 550 in the skilled
stream and 60 885 in the family stream).
A 457 visa is increasingly seen as a pathway to permanent migration. In
2014–15 to 31 March 2015, the number of 457 visa holders who were granted a
permanent residence or provisional visa was 37 430, an increase of 5.2 per
cent compared with the same period in the previous program year.
Table 2.1 below shows the percentages of 457 visa holders who have
converted to a permanent or provisional visa over the last five years.
Table 2.1: percentages of 457 visa holders who have
converted to a permanent or provisional visa over the last five years.
Source: Department of
Immigration and Border Protection, answer to question on notice, 17 July 2015
(received 11 August 2015).
The pathway most used by 457 visa holders to gain permanent residence is
the Temporary Residence Transition stream of the Employer Nomination Scheme or
the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. The International English Language
Testing System (IELTS) test score requirement to gain permanent residence
through the Temporary Residence Transition stream is at least a score of five
in each of the four test components.
IELTS assesses English proficiency on a scale of 1–9 in four skills: listening,
reading, writing and speaking.
Beyond the 457 visa program, however, other temporary visas provide a
pathway to permanent residency. The Migration Council of Australia advised the
committee that 'in 2013–14, over 58 per cent of new permanent residency visas
were granted to people already in Australia on temporary visas'.
The links between the temporary and skilled migration programs and arguments about
the respective merits of the two programs are discussed in chapter 3.
As at 31 March 2015, there were 106 755 primary 457 visa holders in
Australia compared to 111 781 at 31 March 2014. This is a reduction of 4.5 per
cent (see Table 2.2 below).
Table 2.2: Primary Subclass 457 visa holders in Australia
at 31 March 2015, compared with same date in previous program year.
Subclass 457 primary visa holders in Australia
Source: Australian Government
Departments, Submission 41, Attachment B, Table 1, p. 20.
It is important to note that the partners and children of 457 visa
holders (secondary visa holders) are not subject to the same restrictions as
the primary visa holder and have the right to undertake unskilled work.
There has been a reduction in the numbers of primary and secondary
457 visas granted over the last year (see Table 2.3 below). However, the
71 316 visas granted in 2014–15 is still significantly higher than the 25 786
visas granted in
Table 2.3: Primary Subclass 457 visas granted in
2014−15 to 31 March 2015, compared with same date in previous program
2013–14 to 31/03/14
2014–15 to 31/03/15
Source: Australian Government
Departments, Submission 41, Attachment B, Table 2, p. 20.
The perception that 457 visas are granted solely to recipients in a
foreign country is no longer accurate. Indeed, almost half of all 457 visas
granted in 2014–15 (18 118 out of 37 127) were to persons already in Australia (see
Table 2.4 below).
Table 2.4: Primary subclass 457 visas granted in 2014–15
to 31 March 2015 where the client was onshore by last visa held.
Visa category – Last visa held
Subclass 457 visa
Temporary Graduate visa
Temporary Resident visa
Working Holiday Maker
Onshore and Offshore
Source: Australian Government
Departments, Submission 41, Attachment B, Table 3, p. 20.
The issue of whether a 457 visa recipient is onshore or offshore at the
time of the granting of a 457 visa is relevant to the debate over the relative
cost of employing a 457 visa worker as opposed to hiring an Australian citizen
or permanent resident. This matter is discussed in chapter 3.
There are over 1.8 million temporary visa holders in Australia (see Table
Table 2.5: Temporary visa holders in Australia at 31
March 2015 by visa category
Bridging visa holders
New Zealand (subclass 444) visa holders
Student visa holders
Temporary graduate (subclass 485) visa holders
Temporary skilled (subclass 457) visa holders
Visitor visa holders
Working holiday maker visa holders
Other temporary visa holders
1 719 484
1 871 656
Source: Australian Government
Departments, Submission 41, Attachment B, Table 4, p. 21.
Of the total population of temporary visa holders, approximately 1.4
million temporary visas held in Australia at 31 March 2015 have work rights
attached to them. The types of visas held by temporary visa holders include:
New Zealand (subclass 444);
Student (subclasses 570 to 576);
Temporary graduate (subclass 485);
Temporary skilled (subclass 457); and
Working Holiday Maker (subclasses 417 and 462).
Removing the large number (648 993) of New Zealand citizens who are
visa holders from the calculations still leaves approximately three quarters of
a million temporary visa holders in Australia with work rights.
Seasonal Worker Program
The original version of the seasonal worker program was introduced in
2008 to allow workers from certain Pacific island countries to work in the
Australian horticulture industry for up to seven months.
The seasonal worker program has since been expanded to the agriculture
and accommodation industries in specified locations. The program is now
uncapped with take-up determined by employer demand.
Participating countries include Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea,
Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Seasonal
workers can be employed for up to six months, and seasonal workers recruited
from Kiribati, Nauru or Tuvalu can be employed for up to nine months due to the
higher costs of transportation to and from Australia for citizens from these
For all periods of employment, approved employers must guarantee a
minimum average of 30 hours' work per week to seasonal workers. Approved
employers also need to test the labour market before recruiting seasonal
(The seasonal worker program is covered in greater detail in chapter 5).
Working Holiday Maker visa program
The Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program includes the Working Holiday
(subclass 417) and Work and Holiday (subclass 462) visas. As at 31 March 2015,
there were 160 275 WHM visa holders in Australia.
The WHM visa program began in 1975 and allows young adults (aged 18 to
30) from eligible partner countries to work in Australia while having an
extended holiday. It has consistently been seen as a cultural program 'facilitating
the travel of young people to and from Australia to have a cultural experience,
supplemented with a limited opportunity to work'.
Indeed, the DIBP states that 'work in Australia must not be the main purpose of
the visa holder's visit'.
However, the WHM (subclass 417 and subclass 462) visa allows work for
the full 12 months of the visa, with the sole restriction on the work rights of
a WHM visa holder being that they cannot work for the same employer for more
than six months.
Furthermore, since 1 November 2005, a first-time WHM (subclass 417)
visa holder who has carried out 88 days of 'specified work' in regional
Australia is eligible to apply for a second WHM visa. 'Specified work' includes
agriculture, mining and construction.
The number of second WHM visa grants has grown rapidly since the
program's inception. There were 2692 grants in 2005–06 compared with 45 952
grants in 2013–14.
Of the 45 952 second visa grants, 11 295 (24.6 per cent) were to WHM visa
holders from Taiwan.
In 2013–14, approximately one in four first-time WHM visa holders
acquired a second WHM visa. The second WHM visa program constituted 20 per cent
of the overall WHM program as at 30 June 2014 compared to just 3.3 per cent as
at 30 June 2006.
Student visa program
All eligible international students holding visa subclasses 570–576 are
permitted to work 40 hours per fortnight during the course of their studies (under
visa condition 8104).
As at 31 March 2015, there were 413 123 student visa holders in
Although precise numbers are difficult to ascertain, it was estimated that in
2011, more than 200 000 international students were in paid work.
Temporary graduate visa program
International students who have recently graduated from an Australian
educational institution can apply for a subclass 485 visa that allows them (and
their family) to remain and work in Australia temporarily after completing
As at 31 March 2015, there were 23 021 temporary graduate visa holders in
The 485 visa has two visa streams. The Graduate Work stream is for
international students with an eligible qualification who graduate with skills
and qualifications that relate to an occupation on the Skilled Occupation List
(SOL). A visa in this stream is granted for 18 months from the date of grant.
The Post-Study Work stream is for international students who graduate
with a higher education degree from an Australian education provider,
regardless of their field of study. A visa in this stream can be granted for up
to four years.
In contrast to the 457 visa program, the labour agreement stream (Labour
Agreements, Project Agreements and Designated Area Migration Agreements) allows
for the sponsorship of semi-skilled workers. The Australian Government
Departments' submission notes:
A labour agreement is a formal arrangement negotiated between
an employer and the Australian Government. It aims to provide a migration
pathway for businesses and industries that need semi-skilled and skilled
workers for occupations that are not covered by the standard subclass 457
programme. The labour agreement document defines employer obligations such [as]
the training requirements for Australian employees.
Labour agreements are bound by certain conditions which the DIBP
assesses on a case by case basis:
Employers seeking to enter into a labour agreement are
required to provide a comprehensive submission to DIBP which provides a
compelling evidence-base demonstrating there is a genuine skills shortage and
there are no suitably qualified or experienced Australians available.
Consultation with relevant stakeholders is a mandatory part of the labour
All employers seeking access to a labour agreement must
provide evidence of labour market need, including evidence of their genuine
on−going recruitment efforts for the last six months. DIBP also consults
with the Department of Employment for its assessment of the labour market in
the requested occupations.
While marginal concessions to the TSMIT [Temporary Skilled
Migration Income Threshold]
may be approved in limited circumstances where there is a compelling business
case, DIBP must be satisfied that overseas workers have sufficient income to
support themselves and their dependants, as they do not have access to the same
range of benefits and services as Australians. Regardless, the terms and
conditions of employment for overseas workers under labour agreements must, at
all times, be no less favourable than those for Australian citizens or
permanent residents performing the same duties at the same location.
English language proficiency requirements under labour
agreements are broadly consistent with the standard business sponsorship stream
of the subclass 457 programme. Concessions are only considered where there is a
strong business case and the concession would not constitute a work, health or
safety risk. Further, employers must demonstrate that overseas workers can
adequately access workplace relations protections and can participate in the
Consistent with the standard subclass 457 programme, approved
sponsors under labour agreements are also required to meet a range of
sponsorship obligations, including a satisfactory record of, and an ongoing
commitment to, the training of Australians.
An on-hire labour agreement (OHLA) is a formal arrangement negotiated
between an on-hire (also known as labour hire) business and the Australian
government. The OHLA is a template agreement which means that the negotiations
are restricted to a discussion about occupations, numbers and salaries, and do
not include the terms and conditions of the OHLA.
In recognition that many Australian companies do not directly
recruit or employ all their own staff but instead use the legitimate business
services of companies in the On−hire sector (which includes recruitment
agents, labour hire and contract management firms), the On-hire Template Labour
Agreement was introduced in 2007. The template allows for labour agreements to
be entered into without negotiation on the conditions of the labour agreement.
Beyond the ability to on-hire workers to other employers, there are no
additional concessions under the template and all nominations must meet the
same minimum requirements of the standard subclass 457 programme. Only occupations
that are eligible for the standard subclass 457 programme and that are listed
on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupation List (CSOL) may be sponsored.
The Australian Government Departments' submission also notes that labour
agreements are designed to 'complement' the 457 visa program in that 'they are
commonly used by employers in regional areas, to fill niche occupations that
few Australians are qualified in or are unavailable'.
Designated Area Migration
A Designated Area Migration Agreement (DAMA) allows states, territories
or regions to negotiate an agreement 'under which employers in areas
experiencing skills and labour shortages can sponsor skilled and semi-skilled
A DAMA has a two tiered structure:
an over-arching agreement between a Designated Area
Representative that is endorsed by a state or territory government and the
Australian Government to bring overseas workers to a designated area; and
individual agreements between employers and the Australian Government
that allow employers to sponsor overseas workers to the designated area under
the terms and conditions agreed to in the over-arching agreement.
A Project Agreement 'allows infrastructure or resource development
projects experiencing genuine skills or labour shortages access to temporary
skilled and specialised semi-skilled temporary overseas workers through the
subclass 457 visa'.
A Project Agreement also has a two-tiered structure:
A project company representing employers within a project will
enter into an overarching project deed of agreement with the department. This
agreement will be in the form of a 'deed of agreement' and it will outline,
among many matters, the occupations and any concessions agreed to, that will
facilitate the recruitment of overseas workers on a project.
Under the overarching project deed of agreement, selected
employers endorsed by the project company will enter into a labour agreement
with the Commonwealth to sponsor overseas workers on the project under the
terms and conditions agreed to in the overarching deed of agreement. A labour
agreement will only be approved where suitably qualified Australians are not
Enterprise Migration Agreements
The Enterprise Migration Agreement Program has ceased due to the
softening labour market in the resource sector.
Reviews and reforms of temporary visa programs
As the principal dedicated temporary skilled migration program, the 457
visa program has been subject to several specific and related inquiries (the
first inquiry being undertaken before its inception). There have, however, been
inquiries related to other temporary visa programs such as the Knight review
of the student visa program.
This section provides a brief summary of various reviews including:
an inquiry into the temporary entry of business people and highly
skilled specialists (the Roach report) (1995);
an inquiry by the External Reference Group chaired by Mr Peter
McLaughlin into temporary residence (2002);
an inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration into
temporary business visas (2007);
an inquiry by the Visa Subclass 457 External Reference Group chaired
by Mr Peter Coates into the capacity of temporary migration to ease labour
the Visa Subclass 457 Integrity Review (the Deegan review)
arising from concerns about the exploitation of temporary migrant workers
Strategic Review of the Student Visa Program 2011 (the Knight
an inquiry into the Protecting Local Jobs (Regulating Enterprise
Migration Agreements) Bill 2012 [Provisions] by the Senate Standing Committee
on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations;
an inquiry into the framework and operation of subclass 457
visas, Enterprise Migration Agreements and Regional Migration Agreements by the
Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (2013);
the Independent Review into Integrity in the Subclass 457
Programme (the Azarias review) (2014);
the Skilled Migration and 400 Series Visa Program Review by the DIBP
The Roach review was commissioned by the Keating government. The review
found that temporary business migration (and in particular, of highly skilled
business executives) to Australia was beneficial and recommended that a
streamlined single visa replace the multiple business visas existing at that
The incoming Coalition government accepted the broad thrust of the Roach report
and implemented the 457 visa program in 1996.
However, skill shortages in the Australian labour market during the
2000s led to significant changes in the 457 visa program with both a substantial
expansion in the numbers of 457 visas granted and the inclusion of 'a broader
range of skilled occupations, including trades'.
Labour market testing had been part of the 457 visa program when it was
introduced on 1 August 1996. But, on 1 July 2001, the provision was removed with
the early implementation by the Coalition government of a recommendation by the
External Reference Group review that labour market testing be replaced with a
skills and salary threshold.
The Joint Standing Committee on Migration recommended that the
Departments of Immigration and Citizenship and Employment and Workplace
Relations apply greater rigour to their assessment of occupations experiencing
skill shortages so that the gazetted list of approved occupations 'lists only
skilled migration occupations in demand'.
The report by the Visa Subclass 457 External Reference Group was
produced at the height of the resources boom, a time of low unemployment. The
report noted certain parts of the economy (such as the resources sector) were
facing general labour shortages and that even though the 457 visa program had
become 'a general labour supply visa' by default, it was 'not suitable to meet
the market requirements for semi-skilled and unskilled labour'. The report therefore
recommended that the 'Australian Government pilot other approaches to the
provision of a range of labour in specific industries'.
The Visa Subclass 457 Integrity Review by Australian
Industrial Relations Commissioner Barbara Deegan (the Deegan review) was
triggered by concerns arising from the expanded nature of the 457 visa program
including the exploitation of temporary migrant workers and fears that Australian
jobs were being taken by 457 visa workers.
Noting that workers on a 457 visa only had twenty-eight days before
their visa expired to find a new job if they left their sponsored employment, the
Deegan review pointed out that the twenty-eight day rule allowed unscrupulous
employers to intimidate temporary migrant workers with the threat of being
forced out of the country unless they adhered to their employers' demands. One
of the key recommendations of the Deegan review was that the time limit for a
457 visa worker to find alternative employment be extended to ninety days.
The Deegan review also recommended a 'salary floor' and an obligation on
all 457 visa employers to pay market salary rates to all 457 visa workers.
The Knight review into the Student Visa Program is of relevance to this
inquiry in so far as one of the key findings was that the availability of
post-study work rights was an essential element in Australian universities
remaining a viable destination for overseas students:
The absence of a clearly defined post study work rights
entitlement puts Australian universities at a very serious disadvantage
compared to some of our major competitor countries. In the past the absence of
such an entitlement has not proven to be a dramatic hindrance to Australian
universities recruiting international students. But the world has changed.
Global competition for quality international students is intensifying and
almost certainly will continue to further intensify. Allowing a moderate period
of post study work rights will be essential to ensuring the ongoing viability
of our universities in an increasingly competitive global market for students.
In 2013, the former Labor government introduced the Migration Amendment
(Temporary Sponsored Visas) bill 2013. The Migration Amendment (Temporary
Sponsored Visas) Act 2013 (Migration Amendment Act) amended the Migration
Act 1958 to:
require the minister to establish the Ministerial Advisory
Council on Skilled Migration to provide advice in relation to the temporary
sponsored work visa program;
require sponsors participating in the temporary sponsored work
visa program to undertake labour market testing in relation to nominated
provide that labour market testing is undertaken after
redundancies and retrenchments have occurred;
provide for enforceable undertakings between the minister and
approved sponsors in relation to sponsorship;
enable Fair Work inspectors to monitor sponsorship compliance.
The Migration Amendment Act also amended the Migration
Regulations 1994 to give workers on a 457 visa ninety consecutive days to find
a new employer,
as recommended by the Deegan review.
The most contentious element of the Migration Amendment Act was
the decision to reintroduce labour market testing.
Despite bipartisan support for a system of skilled migration, the
Azarias review noted that the number of inquiries into the 457 visa program was
'a clear indication that it faces a politically and economically divided
In a nutshell, on the one side are those, largely business
owners, who need overseas workers to supplement their workforces, while on the
other are those, mainly unions, who seek primarily to safeguard the job
opportunities and entitlements of workers in Australia.
The Azarias review sought to answer two key questions:
how to ensure that the occupations that sponsors seek to recruit for
are genuinely skilled ones; and
how to ensure the Australian public can be certain that
Australians have been given first opportunity to fill these jobs.
The Azarias review proposed the formation of a tripartite ministerial
advisory council (to replace the existing Ministerial Advisory Council on
Skilled Migration) 'to make recommendations on the occupations that should be
included in the department's 457 occupation list'. The review argued that the
proposal had several advantages:
It replaces two flawed requirements, the lack of
responsiveness of the current occupations list and the inadequacy of labour
market testing, with a system which is transparent to all stakeholders; which
benefits from their full participation and buy-in; which responds quickly to
the dynamic changes in the Australian labour market; which is based on factual
evidence rather than poorly substantiated claims; which is objectively analysed
by technical experts; and which considerably reduces government silos.
Once the system is up and running, employers will have the
flexibility, responsiveness and certainty they need, and their regulatory
burden should accordingly be lessened, with no concomitant risk to the
community; and stakeholders, including the Australian public, will be more
confident about the integrity of the programme.
The basis for, and composition and role of, a ministerial advisory
council is one of the key areas that the committee's inquiry investigated (see
The Azarias review also recommended changes to the training requirements
imposed on visa sponsors. The review found 'strong support for the principle
that sponsors should make a contribution to training Australians in return for
being able to sponsor 457 visa holders'. However, the review found:
...little support by either sponsors or labour representatives
for the current training benchmarks, whose success in achieving the desired
outcomes was repeatedly questioned, and whose application was considered to be
Consequently, the Azarias review recommended the training benchmarks be
abolished and replaced by a fixed amount (for example, $400) for each 457
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquiry
into the framework and operation of subclass 457 visas, Enterprise Migration
Agreements and Regional Migration Agreements in 2013 made eleven
The committee notes that two of the recommendations made by the Senate Legal
and Constitutional Affairs References Committee were not supported by the
government, three were supported in principle, and six were referred to the
Azarias review for further consideration.
This report revisits several of the recommendations in later chapters.
The DIBP is currently conducting a review of the Skilled Migration and
400 series visa programs.
The committee notes that the Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) and the Work
and Holiday visa (subclass 462) are not included within the DIBP review of the
400 series visa programs.
With respect to the DIBP review, the committee received evidence on a
gap between the 457 visa program and the subclass 400 visa. The subclass 400
visa can be issued for up to six months' duration, but is generally approved
for stays of up to three months. Global immigration law firm, Fragomen, argued
that the subclass 400 visa was much more appropriate than the 457 visa for
short-term work, but that the criteria for the subclass 400 visa were overly
restrictive. Fragomen therefore proposed 'allowing a total of six months' stay
in Australia, but over a validity period of 12 months from date of first
entry; and removing the initial entry date restriction'.
The committee makes no further comment on this suggestion as it understands
this matter will be considered by the DIBP review.
Northern Australia White Paper
The Abbott government White Paper on Developing Northern Australia (the
White Paper) released in June 2015 proposed changes to some of Australia's
temporary visa programs. With regard to DAMAs, the White Paper noted:
Australia's first DAMA commenced in the Northern Territory on
10 February 2014. A memorandum of agreement for up to 500 workers is
currently in place pending a three year agreement. This is an umbrella
agreement that will allow employers in the Northern Territory to sponsor
temporary workers including chefs, child care and aged care workers, office managers,
and truck drivers.
The Western Australia Government is currently working with
the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Pilbara Regional
Council on a proposed DAMA for the Pilbara region.
With respect to the WHM visa program, the White Paper stated the
government will amend the operation of the program to allow a WHM visa holder
to work an additional six months with one employer in northern Australia if
they work in the following high demand areas:
agriculture, forestry and fishing;
tourism and hospitality;
mining and construction;
disability and aged care.
In addition, the government proposed giving a WHM (subclass 462) visa
holder the opportunity to access a second 12 month visa if they work for three
months in agriculture or tourism in the north. Given that a WHM (subclass 417)
visa holder already has access to a second 12 month visa, the change meant WHM visa
holders 'could potentially be able to work for the entire duration of their two
year stay in Australia'.
The committee makes a recommendation in chapter 8 on the rights and protections
available to temporary visa workers under any new visa class or extension to a
visa issued under changes arising from the White Paper.
The White Paper also announced changes to the Seasonal Worker program,
stating the government would:
remove the cap on the number of workers participating in the Seasonal
Worker program, making it an employer demand-driven scheme;
expand the Seasonal Worker program to the broader agriculture
industry and the accommodation sector on an ongoing basis;
invite northern Australia's tourism industry to suggest proposals
to trial the Seasonal Worker program in tourism sectors other than
accommodation from 1 July 2015;
remove the minimum stay requirement of 14 weeks, provided workers
receive a net financial benefit of at least $1000 during their stay; and
simplify cost sharing arrangements by combining the employer's
contribution to each seasonal worker's international and domestic airfare to a
total of $500.
The White Paper also flagged that, subject to the conclusion of the
Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, the government will invite
additional Pacific Island Forum countries to participate in the Seasonal Worker
program, potentially adding the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia,
Niue, Palau and the Republic of Marshall Islands.
The White Paper noted, however, that employers will still be required to
test the local labour market to see if Australian workers are available. In
addition, the government 'will have the discretion to cap, exclude and review
the placement of seasonal workers in areas with high unemployment and low
workforce participation rates'.
Interactions between the various visa programs
As the above sections demonstrate, temporary visa programs tend to be
seen and reviewed in isolation from each other. A consequence of this
segregated approach has been that a key feature of Australia's system of
temporary migration, the interaction between the various temporary visa
programs, has been relatively unexamined.
This section therefore considers the interaction of temporary visa
programs in creating a 'two-step' migration program, and the corresponding
potential for unintended consequences such as the creation of a group of
indefinitely temporary migrants.
The notion of an indefinitely temporary cohort of migrants has been
explored by Mr Peter Mares, Adjunct Fellow at the Institute for Social Research
at Swinburne University of Technology. Mr Mares noted it has become
increasingly common for 'a migrant to spend time in Australia on a temporary
visa or a series of temporary visas (such as 457 and student visas), before
taking the next step to become a permanent migrant'.
As noted earlier, temporary visas provide a pathway to permanent
residency. In 2013–14, over 58 per cent of new permanent residency visas were
granted to people already in Australia on temporary visas.
A similar trend has occurred in the family stream of the migration program in
2013–14, with 33 per cent of family visas in the permanent migration program
granted onshore, often the result of temporary migrants partnering with
Australian citizens and permanent residents.
Submitters such as Mr Mares and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and
Industry acknowledged that a 'two-step' migration program, (that is an
opportunity to progress from temporary migration to permanent migration), has
much to recommend it in terms of a 'try before you buy' approach to migration.
However, Mr Mares pointed to the prospect of an increasing number of
indefinitely temporary migrants arising from the potential mismatch between a
capped permanent migration program and an uncapped temporary migration program:
A two-step migration program has much to recommend it, but it
has a potential downside. Since the annual permanent migration program
is capped, but the temporary migration program is open-ended, there is a
potential for a mismatch to emerge between the aspirations of temporary
migrants to become permanent residents and their capacity to do so (in terms of
places in the program).
This raises the very real possibility that a large and
growing number of temporary migrants will extend their stay in Australia by
moving from one temporary visa to another—thus raising the potential for
Australia to have an emerging cohort of migrants who are indefinitely
The three visa programs at the heart of this inquiry, the 457, WHM, and
international student visa programs are central to this scenario. As noted
earlier, all three visa programs have grown substantially over the last ten to
twenty years and all are now entrenched features of the Australian labour
Mr Mares outlined a scenario under which a person could easily spend a
decade and a half in Australia on a series of temporary visas:
An international student arrives in Australia at age 16 to
complete the final two years of high school, before a three year undergraduate
degree, a year of honours and a two year masters program (or eight years of
study in total). The student then spends three years on a 485 graduate post-study
work visa. When this visa expires the student is granted a 457 visa for four
At the end of this period, this student graduate would be
aged 31 and would have spent almost half his or her life in Australia—15
formative years—on a series of temporary visas.
However, despite having lived in Australia for 15 years, paid taxes, and
abided by Australian laws and regulations, the person would not necessarily be
able to access the rights of a resident or citizen:
The person in question, however, will not necessarily be on a
pathway to becoming an Australian resident and enjoying the rights and entitlements
that go with permanent residency and ultimately, citizenship—including the
right to vote or stand for office that is fundamental to the meaningful operation
of a system of representative democracy.
This scenario is likely to be exacerbated by the growing trend to
promote an Australian high school education to overseas students as a means to
create a steady stream of international students for Australia's higher
education system. While the above scenario featured a student completing their
final two years of high school in Australia, Mr Mares told the committee that
Australia is actively encouraging the arrival of children as young as twelve or
thirteen to study in Australian high schools.
There is no data on the number of long-term temporary migrants in
Australia because the DIBP does not collect data in a form that would allow for
it to be calculated. However, Mr Mares provided a range of data that indicated
not only an increasing tendency for 'for temporary visa holders to cycle through
a range of different temporary visa options', but also the potential for a growing
cohort of temporary migrants who fail to progress towards permanent residency
and therefore become indefinitely temporary.
Mr Mares observed at least 2000 people have been in Australia on a temporary
visa for at least 10 years and another 18,000 have been in Australia for eight
years or more on temporary visas. Mr Mares also noted that about 3000 people
who met the eligibility criteria for permanent residency, and who have paid for
and had applications for permanent residency lodged for more than five years,
are still awaiting a response from the DIBP about their application.
Both Eventus Corporate Migration and Mr Mares drew attention to the
treatment of New Zealanders who arrived in Australia after 2001. As noted earlier,
there are approximately 650 000 New Zealanders in Australia. Those that came
before 2001 are special category visa holders and are, to all intents and
purposes, permanent residents. However, a group of approximately 200 000 New
Zealanders that arrived after 2001 do not have a clear pathway to permanent
New Zealanders in this latter category are on a visa that is 'officially
categorised as a temporary visa by the immigration department, even though it
allows an indefinite stay'. In other words, New Zealanders in this category are
Being indefinitely temporary has consequences in terms of a lack of
access to rights and entitlements:
They will never vote and they will never run for office. They
pay taxes and they do have access to Medicare, but they do not have access to
Centrelink, apart from a very limited six-month window after 10 years. They
have to pay full up-front fees for their students to go to university and they
pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme but they cannot access the
National Disability Insurance Scheme.
While Mr Mares did not place an upper limit on the amount of time that a
person could reside in Australia as a temporary migrant, he did point out that
indefinitely temporary migrants are 'at risk of being permanently excluded from
the political community of the nation and permanently denied the benefits and rights
Mr Mares proposed two alternative approaches to this dilemma. The first would
be to give much greater weight to time spent in Australia on a temporary visa
in applications for permanent residency. Mr Mares noted that European Union
member states are required to grant 'permanent or long term residence status to
foreign nationals who have been long-term temporary residents, usually for at
least five years duration' (with time spent on a student visa discounted by 50
per cent compared to time spent working). The second approach would be to cap
Australia's various temporary migration programs, particularly the
international student, 485 and 457 visa programs on an annual basis.
Mr Mares argued that:
A migrant who lives in Australia for a significant period of
time, who contributes to the economic life of the nation through their labour
and their taxes, who has quite possibly paid fees to study here, is a person
who for all intents and purposes, makes Australia their home.
The more time temporary migrants spend living, working and
studying in Australia, the more financial, cultural, psychological and
emotional attachments they are likely to develop.
Given that one of the fundamental tenets of Australian society is that
those subject to the laws of a nation should have a say in how those laws are
developed and administered, a question arises as to when a temporary migrant
accumulates the rights of a resident of Australia. These rights include:
...rights to have a say in how those taxes are spent, rights to
receive protection when they fall on hard times—for example, health care,
disability assistance, unemployment benefits and so on—and rights to access to
services—child care, education.
Related to this discussion about rights and responsibilities is the type
of migration system that Australia currently has and consequently the type of
society that Australia has become. According to Mr Mares, there is a risk that
Australia is moving away from a multicultural society based on citizenship to a
society where a growing cohort of migrants miss out on the rights that accrue
to permanent residents and citizens.
Australia's migration program, particularly since the end of World War
Two, has resulted in a citizenship-based multicultural society that stands in
stark contrast to the guest-worker model in many other societies.
Over the last two decades, however, as temporary migrants have become
increasingly valuable to Australia, new visa categories have been created such
as the 485 post-study work visa. Changes to, and the expansion of, various
temporary migration visas have been made to accommodate various needs or
demands in different sectors of the economy.
Yet while these changes may have been necessary or beneficial, the range
of temporary visa programs and the potential to move from one visa to another
has created a range of incentives for temporary migrants to remain in
Australia. Running alongside these incentives is an expectation that a
temporary migrant will be able to become a permanent resident.
However, the potential for unintended consequences arises when the
numbers of temporary migrants seeking to become permanent residents exceeds the
capacity of the permanent migration stream to accommodate them. In this case, a
situation may arise where a number of temporary migrants, some of whom may have
been in the country for eight years or more, are unable to transition to
The risk for Australia is the creation of an indefinitely temporary
cohort of migrants who lack access to the rights and entitlements of permanent
residents and citizens. These are serious issues for an inclusive liberal
democracy such as Australia that, historically, has built a citizenship-based
In order to resolve the issues of a permanently temporary cohort of
migrants, the committee received evidence to suggest that time spent living in
Australia should be given greater weight in consideration of applications for
permanent residency. It was also proposed that eight years continuous residence
was a reasonable period of time to fully qualify a temporary migrant for a
permanent visa assuming there were no serious character concerns.
The committee has not formed a view on the weight that should be
attached to length of residence in Australia, or the length of time after which
it would be reasonable to resolve the status of a temporary visa holder.
However, the committee is persuaded that these are matters which merit serious
The committee heard that the DIBP gathers information on a temporary
visa holder based on the last time they entered the country. However, the DIBP
does not appear to have a system that can aggregate the data to provide figures
on the number of temporary visa holders that have been in Australia on a series
of temporary visas and for how long in total. In terms of ascertaining the number
of long-term temporary migrants and designing appropriate policy in this area,
the lack of this type of data is a serious deficiency.
The committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection routinely publish data on the number of temporary migrants resident
in Australia by length of stay. This data should account for transitions
between temporary visa categories. The committee also recommends that brief
periods of time spent outside Australia during a transition between visas
should not restart the clock on calculating the total length of time spent in
Australia on temporary visas.
The committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection conduct a review of proposals to give greater weight to time spent
living in Australia in consideration of applications for permanent residency.
The review should also consider the merits of setting a limit on the period of time
after which it would be considered reasonable for a temporary visa holder to
qualify for permanent residency.
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