The New and 'Improved' 457 and its Controversial Casualties
The reforms to the 457 visa have contributed to feelings of hopelessness for those trying to make Australia home, with several becoming entrenched in a system that needs them but doesn’t seem to want them.
Why do you want to be an Australian citizen? A question which an increasing number of immigrants don’t see themselves having the opportunity of answering.
As of April 18 the plan has changed for many immigrant families due to the unprecedented reforms to the temporary migration system, which bring with it more financial demands and the looming implementation of the new Temporary Skill Shortage visa system.
Why do you want to be an Australian citizen?
“I’ve been living in Australia for three years already… I’ve honestly come to love the place. I’ve been living here long enough to become comfortable with it and I honestly consider it as home. As weird as this sounds, being a citizen would make you feel like it truly is your home.”
As an 18-year-old immigrant, Symoune Arcilla-Aron, has become a casualty of this immigration system. One which has entrapped her and fills her with uncertainty and dismay as she is not able to make a home out of the place she feels is home.
ROAD TO THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM
Originally from the Philippines, her parents made the decision to move to Australia in search for better opportunities for their daughters. Having graduated with bachelor degrees and unable to find work in their prospective fields they hoped for an easier future for their children.
Her father migrated to Australia three years prior to the rest of the family, with pressure not just from his family but the Philippine government to make the move a successful one.
“The Philippine government is very productive in sending people out to work, it is part of their GDP, they have a vested interest in people of their own community working elsewhere and most of the time sending the money they make back home, these people are put in a difficult position because they have pressures not just from their families but also the government, to work overseas” says Lecturer in Management and Organisations at the University of Western Australia (UWA), Dr Donella Caspersz.
Symoune’s father, Beinvenido Aron, a trained electrical engineer, worked in the Philippines as a plumber and made his debut in Australia as a pool installer. He arrived with the hopes of achieving a 457 visa in order to make the transition into permanent residency and ultimately citizenship.
However, with a system that is not adequately regulated, Mr Aron soon became another casualty.
“The greatest threat to the temporary migration program has been the increasing incidents of exploitation of temporary migrants and I don’t think the immigration department has put enough resources into clamping down on that because many temporary migrant experience exploitation, which undermines the whole program” says Professor Jock Collins of the University of Technology Sydney.
Working full time under laborious conditions, Symoune’s father was exposed to initiations were he was asked to shovel from dawn to dusk and subjected to injuries on site. Detriments to his physical health he was willing to accept to provide his family with a new lease in life.
The Australian dream.
A process they once thought was easy to complete was complicated further than necessary when his supervisor lied about his own job title to get more money from the 457 scheme. Regardless, the company was able to secure Mr Aron and his family 457 visas.
The grind of the work and stress of the system is creating tension in the home.
A father feels like he has failed his family.
A mother is stressed because her husband is suffering.
And children bear witness to the way that politics affects a marriage, family and the psychology of the individual.
A CHANGE OF PLANS
Two new visas are to replace the 457 scheme and condense the occupation list. The new system will continue to be demand driven and depending on occupation, an applicant will have the option of applying for a two year temporary visa, after which they will have to leave the country, or a four year visa which provides a pathway to permanent residency.
The Turnbull government claims this new system will ensure that “Australian jobs are filled by Australians”, all with the aim of making sure that the immigration program operates in the national interest. An interest which seems to be at odds with those who are not Australian but desire to call Australia home.
Mr Aron’s current profession is not part of the occupation list, inhibiting him from applying for permanent residency, and although he is a plumber with experience, he is not able to certify this career – which is on the occupation list.
Due to the financial constraints and the immense expense that is international tertiary studies Symoune has been catapulted into full time work, putting her Law studies on hold.
After handing out more than 100 job applications, searching for seven months, and striking out fast food employment, she was finally able to secure a job through a friend at an aged care facility.
With petitions in play to get the profession of pool installer on the occupation list, all there is left for Symoune’s family to do is continue with their work and patiently wait for news.
This is a reform that has had immense impact on families like Symoune’s, but it hasn’t only affected the stereotypical manual labour 457 workers.
Universities are very concerned because academics will fall under the two year visa stream, as well as high ranking corporate positions like CEOs - both which will have enormous implications.
“You got quite a few [institutions and businesses] saying ‘oh well, we weren’t consulted and we are very concerned about the fact that our business and our people won’t be able to bring in people to meet their industry production needs’” says Caspersz.
The temporary labour immigration system has always been controversial – a subject of concern and contempt.
Prior to the introduction of amendments to the Migration Act in 1996, which saw the inception of temporary migration, Australia followed a settler migration. You had to become a citizen if you wanted to come and live in Australia.
It is this “‘embededness’ [sic], if you like, in Australian society, that migration equalled permanency, equalled settlement, equalled citizenship” that caused so much controversy initially.
However, there is evidence to suggest that there was never a move away from these ideals.
Professor Collins argues that temporary visa workers apply for other visas and certainly half get permanent residency, which is a big motivator for joining the 457 scheme in first place.
The discontent with the system has grown as the world has changed. The current political climate has seen a rise in populism: Trump won the presidency in the USA, Brexit is underway in Europe, and Australia has once again witnessed the rise of Pauline Hanson.
“Societies have become beset by problems of terrorism and nationalism and the temporary migrant scheme has kind of been caught in the middle of that” says Caspersz.
Collins supports this theory, claiming there may be politics at play as the government tries to gain votes. With populist opinions against temporary labour immigration stemming from the exploitation of temporary workers creating unfair labour competition for the Australian worker.
THE SCALE OF THE 457 PROBLEM
What is important to understand however is that not all immigrants who are working in Australia are affected by the changes to the 457 and not all 457 workers are plagued with issues in their transit.
“In terms of numbers the statistics of issues with 457 is so small. Ninety-five per cent are employed in their original area of skills. The 457 in terms of the labour market is just one per cent - in the absolute numbers it is not a big number” says UWA researcher Mrs Renata Casado.
To give more perspective, 457 visa holders only make a fraction of the temporary labour market. The 457 scheme doesn’t include the 250,000 working holiday maker visas or the international students who are able to work 20 hours per week.
These facts are at odds with the claims of government, especially when currently there are only 95,758 457 visa holders, including their family members - How are they affecting the job market as significantly as it has been made out to be?
When thinking of that small percentage of Australia’s population it is important to remain aware, as Caspersz, that we are still talking “about the lives and aspirations and dreams and hopes” of people who have become the casualties of the “mangling of policies and practice.”
Should Symoune’s family not be able to make the transition into a permanent residency there is only one option left. The Philippines.
“I have to be patient. You can’t do anything about it” is Symoune’s disheartened reply.