Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stated that he wants to overhaul the 457 visa program in a bid to increase employer flexibility as part of his innovation and competitiveness agenda.

Those planned changes include streamlining the processing of sponsorship, nomination and visa for low-risk applicants, and increasing the Standard Business Sponsorship term from 12 to 18 months for start-up businesses.

Minister Abbott said the current 457 visa scheme is too rigid, and any changes are not a way of substituting overseas labour for domestic labour.

“We want these to be more flexible, and we want these to be a way of helping business to grow,” he said.

“457s are not a way of substituting overseas labour for domestic labour. They are a way of helping Australian businesses to grow so that Australian workers have more opportunities and higher wages. So, where there is the chance of more investment and substantially more employment for Australians if we are more flexible, that’s what we want to look at.”

Also flagged was a relaxation of the English-language requirements, an issue of contention amongst unions such as the CFMEU who are concerned that poor English skills could result in workplace accidents.

However national president of the Migration Institute of Australia Angela Chan said that she disagreed, agreeing with the Government that some areas of the 457 scheme required greater flexibility.

“What’s happened is that the program had bogged down in red tape and requirements that made it very difficult for employers to sponsor skilled workers from overseas,” she said.

“People often don’t need to have a high level of English to perform their trades. For example, a cook … I would rather have a cook that could cook a beautiful and safe and hygienic and first-class sushi, or any other type of food that requires a high level of skill, then (for that cook) to be able to read the sports pages of the local newspaper.”

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