Many people, particularly in information technology, are angry about how the temporary 457 visa scheme has panned out. Rather than argue about whether there’s a skills shortage and skilled immigrants steal Australian jobs, here’s a suggestion for a way to fix the system.

The problem currently is the avenues for abuse. Immigrants are tied to their sponsoring employer for the term of their visa – leaving them vulnerable to threats. This affects local workers by making them less attractive, as they can quit if they want to.

The government has tried to reduce concerns through fine-tuning. It sets minimum wages, has points systems, and does spot-checks. Generally, extensive government intervention in any market is a bad idea, yet this is exactly what’s happening.

Outside the government, there are three parties involved in skilled migration. They are:

  • Employers, who claim they can’t get enough workers locally.
  • Foreigners who want to live in Australia.
  • Local workers, who generally support immigration that doesn’t negatively affect their prospects.

Here’s a suggested way to meet these competing needs. Rather than some bureaucrats using statistics to decide “We have enough programmers, but not enough welders”, use the market. If an employer says they can’t find a worker locally, let them bring one in for a nominal fee – say $10,000.

Explain to this worker they are under no obligation WHATSOEVER to stay with their sponsoring employer during their stay. If they want to change jobs, they can. If an employer is unable to retain their new employee, then their problem is created by bad human resources policies and not a lack of skills in the market.

Attempts to manipulate this system by creating sham employment arrangements and charging the immigrants should be treated as a criminal offence.

Foreign workers have their needs met, getting free access to the Australian labour market. Local workers have their needs met by being rendered relatively more attractive, all else being equal.

Voila! A system that is fair, free-market oriented and difficult to manipulate.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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