More people on temporary visas is a wake-up call for employers

It’s been 12 months since the 457 Visa was abolished and replaced with the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) Visa. Since then, the number of temporary visa holders in Australia has risen to 2.3million – that’s 92,400 more than March 2018. Here’s why things are changing, and what the new landscape mean for employers.

What are the most common temporary work visas in Australia by the numbers?

After the 457 Visa was abolished, most people expected the number of employer-sponsored temporary visa holders in Australia to decrease, because the TSS is more expensive and more difficult to obtain, says vSure founder Mark Webster.

On the contrary, they went up slightly, from 151,600 in March 2018 to 154,200 in March 2019. However, when you take into account gains in other temporary visa subcategories, you can see the percentage of employer sponsored visas is now much smaller than it used to be, compared to all other visa types.

In March 2019, there were over 2.3 million temporary visa holders in Australia altogether, including 80,000 temporary graduate visa holders, 149,000 working holiday makers, 229,000 bridging visa holders, and 617,000 international students, which can all have work rights.

Some of these figures represent a marked year-on-year increase – the number of temporary graduate visas, for example, jumped by almost 24%, bridging visas by 17.6%, and international student visas by 14.4%.

Why are there more temporary visa holders in Australia than ever before?    

According to Webster, the main reason behind the boom in temporary graduate and international student visas, is the $34 billion international student industry. “The number of people on these visa types has a pull-through effect, meaning they are planning to stay longer, wanting to work in Australia after their degree and waiting for their other visa applications to be processed. This, in turn, drives the growth in graduate temporary visas, and explains some of the growth in bridging visas as well,” he says. 

The number of permanent visas granted each year recently fell from 190,000 and is now capped at 160,000. The decreased Migration Program, increased visa refusals and cancellations are also affecting the number of bridging visa holders.

“A lower program has led to longer visa processing times, and many applicants, waiting for their permanent visa, would be doing so in Australia on a bridging visa,” he explains.

Why is the changing visa landscape an opportunity and a threat to employers?

The fact that there are more people with work rights in Australia from all around the world than ever before, is a boon for employers  – especially that many of them are students. As Webster points out, “students tend to be highly qualified, highly motivated and really good people to have on-board as staff members.”

But the diversity of temporary visa categories can also be problematic for employers.

“Years ago, the 457 Visa used to be one of the main ways people gained permission to work in Australia, but since it was abolished, there are now a lot more people on other temporary visas providing them with work rights, and these types of work visas are harder to manage”, Webster explains.

What are your obligations when employing visa-holding staff?

Not staying on top of your visa-holding workforce’s entitlements is not only difficult to manage, but can also be costly. According to the Department of Home Affairs, anyone found to have employed, referred or contracted a foreign national who doesn’t have permission to work or is in breach of their visa conditions could face penalties of up to $3,780 to $126,000 per illegal worker.

Looking forward, Webster expects the number of TSS visa holders to hover more or less where it is, but predicts continued growth in the number of international students and therefore, more temporary visa categories.

“If you’re an employer you need to be checking your staff regularly to make sure that everybody’s still okay and legally able to work for you,” he says.

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