Australian IT visa data ignites controversy

Aussie firms accused of using visa scheme to undercut local wage rates and conditions

Australian Department of Immigration Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) records show that IT workers from India currently account for almost half of all temporary, skilled ICT visas issued for entry to Australia for 2004-05 — more than double the number of visas issued to the next country down the list, the UK.

IT workers from India account for 1,415 of the 3,379 subclass 457 (temporary skilled migration) visa grants compared to 681 Britons. The Republic of Ireland comes third at 190 entrants, with the providing 176.

The new numbers effectively discredit repeated claims by multinational software and IT services vendors operating in Australia that they have not been exploiting the 457 visa scheme to undercut local wages and conditions by importing IT labor from low-wage destinations.

The 457 visa system was designed to allow companies to bring skilled workers to Australia to fill skills shortages and to allow enterprises investing in Australia to help establish their operations here. The 457 scheme is specifically not intended to allow companies to import discounted labor from overseas to gain an advantage over competitors in the local marketplace.

The official figures obtained by Computerworld Australia also reveal India has held top position as a source of temporary IT labor since 2001-02.

Unions and the Australian Computer Society have repeatedly warned a lack of transparency in the 457 system has left it open to abuse, claims which DIMIA has so far denied. Having ordered the release of the figures from DIMIA, the office of Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone says it will reveal its position on whether the new numbers are cause for concern in due course.

The most pressing question about 457 visas is whether DIMIA will ultimately make public the names of which IT companies are using 457 workers and release the numbers which they are using. So far, numerous vendors are understood to have lobbied heavily against such a move, arguing it compromises both privacy and their ability to compete in the local marketplace.

Australian Computer Society president Edward Mandla is predictably unimpressed by the latest DIMIA figures, saying they vindicate a long-held position by his organisation that "the whole spirit of the 457 system is broken."

"The evidence in the numbers is of low salaries coming in to undercut local wages and conditions," Mandla says, adding "the saddest thing is that they will result in more local [IT] unemployment and that young people in Australia will not take up IT as a profession ... because all they see is their jobs being taken away from them".

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