Melbourne: Australia today announced changes to its skilled visa programme to ensure that the scheme was not misused and utilised for addressing skill shortages which cannot be met within the country.
The government will act on recommendations of a recent independent review of the 457 visa programme to strengthen integrity and ensure that Australian workers have priority and support of employers, the Ministry of Immigration and Border Protection said in a statement.
The panel was tasked with examining compliance within the 457 programme by sponsors of overseas workers to ensure that the scheme was being used as intended to address skill shortages which cannot be met from the Australian labour market.
The review panel consulted extensively across Australia meeting with over 140 stakeholders and receiving 189 written submissions, including from businesses, unions, industry bodies and academics.
Key recommendations of the review include an increased focus on targeting employers who seek to misuse the programme, greater transparency around the department's sanctions processes and proactive sharing of information between key government agencies.
"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," said Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaelia Cash.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection will work collaboratively with the Australian Taxation Office to crosscheck 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," he said.
"The government will ensure businesses that utilise the 457 programme appropriately will incur less regulation and cost, without compromising on the necessary safeguards that underpin the scheme," Cash said.
"We will reduce the regulatory burden for those businesses with a proven track record by streamlining sponsorship requirements," Cash said.
"An important recommendation which is subject to further consultation is the proposal to replace the current training benchmark provisions introduced by Labour which are complex, costly, and susceptible to misuse," he said.
Cash said contrary to allegations made by the former Labour Government, the review did not find there was widespread misuse of the programme.
"It did make some sensible suggestions, however, for strengthening existing provisions to ensure Australian workers have priority, while supporting employers with genuine skill shortages to access the skills they need," Cash said.
Implementation of the review's recommendations will be rolled out throughout 2015.