Abrupt news today as prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced plans to eradicate 457 visas for temporary workers. TAA and AHA offered differing opinions on how this decision will impact accommodation sector employees and employers but both emphasised the need for federal government to support regional hospitality.
Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) said it welcomed the “revamp”, hoping it will “address genuine skills shortages and prioritise opportunities for Australian workers” while the Australian Hotels Association voiced concern that locals won’t be able to fill vacant regional jobs in the short term.
The Turnbull camp has not made many details public so far, but it seems there could be two replacement visas in the works.
TAA said that while full details were still to be revealed, the accommodation sector was confident that the specific skills needed in the hospitality and tourism sector – particularly in regional Australia – would be catered for in the new system.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton told ABC that the current four-year 457 visas are “essentially open-ended” and tend to have a “migration outcome”, which would be prevented by replacing them with stricter visas. The prime minister also touted potential replacements: a two-year temp visa and a four-year alternative that demands higher skills.
Some fear that the regional hospitality and accommodation sectors around Australia will struggle to attract qualified workers if the visas are stopped.
“With such a rapid increase in tourism it is impossible to meet the demand for skilled labour in the short-term through local channels, especially in regional and remote Australia,” said Australian Hotels Association CEO Stephen Ferguson. “Retention of chefs and cooks in the skilled occupation list is a must.”
The list of skills and occupations that qualify individuals for the 457 visa has been on government radar for many months, with a review announced last year. There are currently more than 650 occupations on the list but that number is now set to shrink.
The federal government identified the industry’s critical skilled labour shortage in its 2015 Australian Tourism Labour Force Report, which estimated that the tourism and hospitality sector would require an additional 123,000 workers by 2020, including 60,000 skilled positions.
Likewise, TAA noted that the Australian hotel sector has undergone its largest ever expansion, with over 120 hotel projects under construction or planned for opening over the next five years.
“Once we have seen the full content of the government’s changes we will be making representations to relevant ministers to ensure that our industry – one of the country’s largest growth industries – receives the support it requires over the next five years. We are also seeking greater investment in training and development of local residents to ensure that we can offer world-class service standards to complement the massive transformation of the industry’s physical product,” said TAA chair, Martin Ferguson.
“The tourism and hospitality sectors are investing heavily in training and career development programs to grow local jobs, but with our industry growing at an unprecedented rate, there will certainly be a need for temporary skilled positions in the short-term.”
AHA also called on the federal government to consider the specific needs of the hospitality sector when designing a new temporary working visa system. “We will be happy to work with the federal government to ensure that their objective of growing local employment is met, while also encouraging growth in the hospitality sector through carefully-targeted temporary skilled worker placements, particularly to support regional Australia,” the association said.