Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's surprise announcement made via Facebook yesterday (18 March) that the government is scrapping the 457 visa for skilled workers has the potential to stick a huge and devastating boot into the innovation economy that he's pledged to build here in Australia.
There could also be a serious impact in the advertising, media and tech industries.
Beginning March 2018, two new temporary work visas will be introduced. A two-year visa that requires two years of relevant work experience and won't be able to transfer into a permanent residency and a four-year option that does. It comes with tougher English language requirements.
The list of relevant professions has also been reduced almost by half. There will be 268 professions eligible for the short-term visa, and 167 for the longer visa program. Having looked at the list, not many of them on the long term list (if any from what I can see) relate to anyone with a technology, digital, media or marketing background. Advertising roles such as ad managers and ad specialists, journalists, copywriters and developer programmers appear only on the short term skills list. There's a number of issues here.
We constantly hear about the talent shortage in the industry, particularly in digital disciplines and data - and yet none of the jobs on the list tackle that.
Also, by relevant jobs only appearing on the short term skills list, it only allows those experts to remain for two years (with some extensions allowed). It does nothing to help plug the long-term skills shortage or shore up the future. For an industry that suffers at the hands of churn, encouraging more short stints will only fuel that revolving door. It doesn't translate into long-term talent retention.
I’m currently on a 457 visa and in the midst of applying for permanent residency after being in Australia for three-and-a-half years. I adore this country, the suburb I live in, the people I know and the work that I do. And I’m not alone.
It's become a kind of joke that so much of the Australian media industry is not Aussie. Often I find myself in meetings where just one person is Australian and the rest are from elsewhere. There's a huge contingent of the media, advertising and marketing industry from the UK, the US and across Europe. There are people from Latin America, the Nordics, South Africa and Asia.
If you also include the tech and startup industries, there's probably an even higher proportion of people behind the workforce that hail from overseas.
What it translates into is a thriving melting pot of ideas and cultures that drives creativity and innovation, and in turn, drives the economy. The CommsCouncil’s 2016 report Advertising Pays report found that our industry pumps $40 billion into the economy. How much of that is down to the diverse and international workforce?
What you often get from people who want to live overseas is people with a natural curiosity. A desire to do more, achieve more and tackle a challenge. What you get is an inspired and hard working workforce with ideas they want to put in motion.
When Turnbull pledged last year to build Australia into an innovation nation, and drive the economy through a $1 billion investment in fostering an 'ideas boom', he introduced things like tax breaks for startups and a new visa was planned to help attract top talent from overseas. But the reality is many of the people working in that space and pushing it forward are 457 visa people.
If you look at Annie Parker, the startup expert who arrived in Australia three years ago to launch Telstra’s startup incubator Muru-D., she arrived on a 457 visa and has gone on to launch Lighthouse, which helps entrepreneurs launch their own startups, as well as 1500 Code Clubs to teach kids to code. A great boon to the innovation economy but how would the new visa system apply?
Or Michael J. Biercuk, a quantum physicist working to bring Quantum Tech to reality.
Closer to home there are Brits leading IPG Mediabrands and Omnicom Group and a South African running GroupM. There are British, European and American execs in senior roles across almost every media and advertising organisation working with Australians to drive the industry forward.
It's not that ideas and innovation can't come from within Australia, or any nation, but if you want that kind of environment it needs people with different perspectives. People whose cultures and upbringings were different. People who want to travel the world, go new places and take their ideas with them.
Obviously tightening up a system that is seen to currently allow the abuse of workers is a good thing. And focusing on skills gaps where Australia needs talented workers makes sense. But, many reports are observing that the loopholes and drawbacks of the current system will be carried over to the new system without any particular gains from the new measures.
Wanting to build a culture of 'risk and innovation' does not match with a rejection of people who can bring that.
Australia is an appealing place to live and work. There's an incredible lifestyle to be had and great work to do, so it's not surprising that it's highly sought after, but last year there were fewer than 100,000 people on 457 visas so it's hardly an epidemic of foreigners stealing jobs from Australians.
What concerns me is the rhetoric from Turnbull around 'Australia first'. It’s straight out of Donald Trump's ‘America First’ playbook and the tone sends shivers down my spine. Although I agree with the sentiment that it makes no sense to marginalise Australian workers with the right skills.
A glance at the front page of today’s Daily Telegraph gives a chilling visual you won't forget in a hurry.
In the same breath Turnbull is praising Australia as the world’s most successful multicultural nation as he closes the door to a generation of overseas nationals that could contribute to a stronger and more diverse Australia. And don’t even get me started on One Nation’s Pauline Hanson’s claims that the decision follows pressure from her party.
The Government will deny their tough talk on immigration & plan to ban 457 visas is because of One Nation but we all know the truth! #auspol— Pauline Hanson (@PaulineHansonOz) April 18, 2017
How will this change impact you and your hiring decisions? Would you be in your role without the 457 visa? Let us know below.