Concerned by mounting industry criticism that Australia's long-stay IT visa scheme is being rorted by unscrupulous operators, federal IT and Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan has pledged the government will investigate.
Last week Australian Computer Society president Edward Mandla alleged nearly half of all long-stay visas (known as 457 visas) issued by the Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) to so-called IT professionals were granted to entrants who anticipated they would earn $45,000 or less per annum.
According to a deluge of correspondence received by Computerworld following last week's story, the $45,000 figure appears at least $15,000 less than the market's current base rates for qualified programmers in Australia.
Asked whether she was concerned about Mandla's allegations, Coonan told Computerworld, "I think that what you have to do is take those concerns on board. Clearly we wouldn't want any abuses of the visa requirements, so I think it is something we have to be very careful about and have a look at."
While expressing concern, Coonan added, "Immigration is not my portfolio, so it is a matter for my colleague [Immigration Minister] Senator [Amanda] Vanstone will have regard to."
While Senator Vanstone's office is yet to respond to enquiries from Computerworld, senior government sources have confirmed the matter will be scrutinized noting that "it's not the first time we have had to take a regulatory stick to some parts of the migration industry".
A source said one concern was the practice of "parking visas", whereby contracting services firms obtained quotas of visas and effectively auctioned them off to employers looking to recruit labour cheap from overseas.
However, the source questioned Mandla's call to have IT-related 457 visas skills tested, suggesting the costs of such a move "may outweigh many of the economic benefits it delivers. I'd like to know who pays for this...are they [the ACS] proposing to do it for free?".
Mandla said care needs to be given to the signals sent to overseas investors in Australia. "The costs could easily outweigh the benefits," Mandla said.
"Business can easily look elsewhere to set up shop, and 457s are intended to facilitate people setting up here. It could be more effective to audit certain operators - there are indications this is an approach that has worked in the past."