Professor Raja Junankar

Any plans to fast track US migrants for the construction and mining industries won’t help these industries find workers – because few people using a 457 work in mining, and most of them don’t come from the US anyway.

The Australian Government has announced it is going to fast track the assessment process for skilled workers. Under the agreement, US workers will able to complete a skills assessment before coming to Australia. The change will speed up the process of approving 457 visas. However I feel Chris Evans’ announcement about relaxing the rules for the 457 visa for US citizens seems to have missed the point – it appears an odd, short-sighted decision.

If there is really a shortage in workers due to the mining boom, then we should look at bringing in more plumbers and electricians, whereas the 457 visas mainly go to professionals.

Looking at the data on the ‘class 457’ visas, in 2011 72% of class 457 visas went to managers and professionals, and only 21% to trades and technicians. He says “The Australian states that received the vast majority of class 457 visa applicants was in New South Wales – which isn’t known as a big mining area. WA gained 23%, and Victoria 20%. Not Queensland, or the Northern Territory.

Also, look at how much they are earning. Wages for professionals are rising strongly, unlike those for non-professionals such as tradies: electricians, plumbers and the like. Certainly in the mining states such as Queensland, there is no increase in wages, compared with other states. This goes against what the miners are telling us – if there was a shortage, surely we would see wages go up.

The data for the 457 visas seems to go against what we are told they are for. The 3 main industries getting 457 visas are construction, health services and ‘other services’: nothing connected to mining. Also if we look at where people have come from that get a 457, the list in order is the UK, India, Ireland and then at 4th, the USA. So we have to look at why the USA has been singled out to be fast-tracked, and the only conclusion I can come to is that it has nothing to do with demand, but is just down to being nice to the US. If the government really wanted to help mining companies they would help the UK, Ireland and India too.

We are told that fast tracked Americans will get mining jobs, doing the fly-in fly-out rotation, often from the US. But this seems a little odd – most of the jobs in mining are in very difficult conditions, and workers will not fly from the US to take them for a fortnight and then fly back. The USA market is also depressed, but not that many people will want to move over to take a job in a remote area. It just seems like the wrong move to make.

Professor Raja Junankar is a Professorial Visiting Fellow in Economics at the Australian School of Business.