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changes in migration policy « Previous | |Next »
June 29, 2009

Temporary worker schemes are a fact of life. They exist around the world including Australia with its 457 visa system and they indicate a shift in international migration from settlement migration to temporary migration. Globally, the flows of temporary labour have been increasing.

Peter Mares in an article entitled The Permanent-shift-to-temporary-migration over at Inside Story says that there has been a transformational shift in Australian migration policy.

What was initially intended as a way of plugging temporary skills gaps has become a permanent feature of the Australian labour market. Last financial year, for the first time, the number of visas issued to temporary foreign workers under the 457 scheme outstripped the number of visas granted to permanent skilled migrants. There is every possibility that this will happen again: although the permanent skilled intake is capped, the employer-driven 457 visa scheme is not.

The market for 457 visas was expected to rise and fall in line with economic needs, and indeed there has been a sharp fall in new applications since the onset of the global recession. But when growth returns to the economy numbers will rapidly go up again. Employers are likely to bring in temporary workers far more swiftly than the government lifts its annual quota for permanent migrants.The fundamental shift from permanent to temporary migration is a shift away from the migration pattern in the the twentieth century when migrants came by sea and stayed for good.

Mare points out that Australia is moving towards a “two step” migration program, in which permanent settlement is preceded by a period of temporary residence as either a migrant worker or an international student. This is a “try before you buy” system of migration. Are 457 visas are being abused as source of cheap labor, rather than as a means to overcome skills shortages? Mares says:

The concern swirling around the 457 visa program is not about Irish nurses or English doctors pushing down wages and taking jobs in Australian hospitals; the focus is on workers from “developing countries” like China, India and the Philippines. Their “temporary” status is used to raise questions about the legitimacy of their presence in the Australian one level the union concerns are accurate: the 457 scheme does risk undermining hard won conditions in Australian workplaces because temporary workers, particularly blue collar workers from non-English speaking backgrounds, are unable or unwilling to stand up for their rights.

He asks: how do we respond to this problem? Should we end the scheme or change its operation? Mares explores the latter option.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:15 AM | | Comments (8)


I think we need a lot more hard evidence about the nature and extent of the problem, if there is one, before deciding if a response is necessary. 457 visas are a great way to improve our engagement with our region and IMHO should be extended to include the guest worker schemes that some Pacific Island leaders wanted and Howard rejected.

Hard won wages and conditions are being undermined for reasons that go way beyond any impact temporary workers might be having on the labour market.

I agree with your comment:

Hard won wages and conditions are being undermined for reasons that go way beyond any impact temporary workers might be having on the labour market.

What is needed is better treatment for temporary works since it is now permanent.Mares himself argues that:
there is a strong case for pursuing the ideal of an ethical (or at least a much more ethical) temporary migrant labour scheme. Temporary worker schemes are a fact of life. They exist around the world, and they are not all equally bad. In fact Australia’s 457 system is far better than most... Despite the manifold problems with temporary labour schemes, workers continue to join them – especially workers from low wage countries with high levels of unemployment. As the saying goes, “there is only one thing worse that being exploited in a foreign country, and that is not being exploited at home.” Migrant workers are willing to trade off individual rights for economic gains.

He says that temporary labour schemes increase migrant workers’ choices by “offering them the opportunity to legally earn higher wages abroad at the (potential) cost of restricting some of their rights.” We may find such tradeoffs unpleasant to contemplate, but calculations like these are made daily by millions of workers around the world.

Do any of you people think cultural/ethnic/racial origin/background should EVER be an explicit component of our immigration program, either by promotion, restriction, or exclusion?

457 Visa holders have been used to replace local workers on high wages in the IT industry

So nobody feels safe enough to comment on then cultural/ethnic/racial origin issues?

I though that racial considerations are tacitly implicit within the immigration policy despite the appeal to neutrality by the liberal state. Unlike American patriotism, which is inclusive, Australian patriotism is exclusive, despite the realities of multiculturalism. This exclusivity is expressed in moral panics about the supposed disloyalty of migrants by a monoculture.

What we don't have is widespread national loyalty and cultural diversity coexisting.

Australia, like the US and New Zealand, is part of the New World, in that they---as nation states--- have been created from settlement, conquest and migration

However, the message from conservative Australian patriots (conservatives have captured the discourse of nationality and patriotism) is that Australia is a great country, with a wonderful British history and no need to change much.

The real problem the conservatives say is those lefties who claim that Australian history is based on a racist culture (White Australia policy). Australian (ie Judeo-Christian) values are under threat from migrants who refuse to accept the dominant culture. Integration is what is need to protect Australian-ness. Order is needed to prevent the fracturing of a unified national culture.

Australia's message to migrants over the last decade has been to say "fit in", rather than participate. 'Fit in' expresses a closed and fixed national identity, not an open ended one.