Visa scheme changes may stunt advancement of manufacturing sector

The Turnbull Government’s decision to immediately abolish foreign working visas and replace them with a new two-tier system in Australia will create an unnecessary layer of complexity and cost in key industry sectors, according to leading workplace relations lawyers Macpherson Kelley.

The 457 visa previously allowed businesses to employ foreign workers for a period of up to four years in skilled jobs where there is a shortage of Australian workers, with eligibility for Permanent Residency application after two years.  The new visa scheme consists of a short-term and medium-term stream based on skills shortages, reducing the number of foreign workers who are eligible to apply for employment in Australia, and therefore apply for Permanent Residency in the longer term.

“The fact is this is a political response to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Macpherson Kelley Workplace Relations Principal Mr Andrew Douglas said.

“Australia’s talent pool is simply not deep enough to ensure that our manufacturing, agriculture, education and ICT sectors remain clever, smart and innovative.

“In abolishing visas like 457, we have in one fell swoop denuded our capability to be a smart economy in an increasingly competitive world.

“As a consequence we have damaged our international reputation as a destination for clever people.

“We have also put at risk the future of many industry sectors, which will undoubtedly struggle to attract and retain some of the world’s brightest minds because of the new visa restrictions,” Mr Douglas said.

Macpherson Kelley warned that the manufacturing sector would be one of the hardest sectors hit by the changes.

The manufacturing sector is in the midst of a major transition from line production to value-add “transformative” manufacturing with the current trend and demand in favour of niche products and services.

“This can only be driven by a highly-skilled workforce that embraces and enables innovation, a workforce that is likely to be stunted as it loses access to the expertise offered by the international pool,” said Mr Douglas.

He said that as a consequence of the changes, the ability of manufacturing to evolve would be jeopardised.

“As a nation, Australia is still fairly new to transformative value-added manufacturing and we just don’t have the skills base.  We need to be able to attract the workers that will facilitate the transition like engineers, designers and others because we’re a small economy,” said Mr Douglas.

“The political solution imposed by Turnbull is code for making it harder for clever manufacturing people to come, work and stay in Australia,” Mr Douglas said.

“Australia does not have, and will not have in the foreseeable future, the talent to make Australia great, innovative and a smart transformation place to do business.

“Making it hard to attract clever people means it will be unattractive to the best work talent and expensive and uncertain for employers, making Australia less competitive.

“Manufacturers will need to navigate these new attempts to frustrate and block clever migration.

“They will be forced to establish new methods of engagement with potential overseas workers that are attractive, rewarding and offer higher levels of certainty that leave the door open for the best,” he said.


For more information and for interview opportunities, please contact:


Sally Chadwick, Macpherson Kelley

Ph: 0418 258 419