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Breaking down the 457 visa changes

  • 20 April 2017


After Easter, the Prime Minister announced major changes to the temporary work visa known as the 457. The changes will take place in various stages between now and March 2018. There are several significant changes which mean that for a number of occupations, the pathway to a permanent visa sponsored by an employer will be closed.

This means that a number of people will only be able to get a temporary work visa for two years, and a further two year period after that only. It is the latest in a range of changes to immigration that have seen Australia change from being a country of permanent migration, to one of permanent and temporary migration.

This trend was well analysed by journalist and writer Peter Mares in his very readable 2016 book, Not Quite Australian. Mares noted that historically, permanent residence was the usual pathway, then leading to citizenship. It meant that you could migrate to Australia, and then eventually fully participate in the Australian community as a citizen.

Mares outlines the various stages in changes to migration from being permanent, to more often a two stage process, which he describes as 'try before you buy'. In fact, it is a trial by Australia of the potential migrant, and by the migrant of Australia.

This became more common in the late 1990s and from around 2000, with large numbers of overseas students arriving and the introduction of the 457 visa by the Howard Government in 1996. For a number of students, studying in Australia was the pathway to permanent migration. This pathway became bogged down, with large numbers of cooks and hairdressers waiting years for their cases to be decided.

Then it was a two stage process for the partner visa — two years as a temporary partner visa, then a permanent visa if the relationship was still ongoing. Protection visas also consisted of a two stage process, with the initial version of the Temporary Protection Visa in 1999 being a three year visa only, with the chance of obtaining a permanent visa thereafter, if you still met the strict refugee criteria.

The 457 visa has faced much criticism in the press, some of it deserved, especially in cases of abuse and underpayment of workers, although the actual extent of such cases is very hard to ascertain.

The 457 visa is also commonly used for doctors in various health services both public and private, accountants in small