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China free trade agreement eases 457 visa rules

Wednesday, 01 Jul 2015

Information Age

A new subclass of 457 visa negotiated in parallel with the China-Australia free trade agreement (ChAFTA) has raised fears of Australian workers being locked out of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects.

The new 457 visas would make it easier for “Chinese owned companies registered in Australia” to import skills for their projects – as long as they commit to capital expenditure of at least $150 million.

The visas are covered by labour agreements called Investment Facilitation Arrangements (IFAs) and can be used on a diverse range of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects – including, but not limited to, telecommunications.

Although IFAs “operate within the framework” of existing 457 visas – ostensibly to ensure “Australian employment laws or wages and conditions [aren’t] undermined” – there are some important differences.

Unlike existing 457 visas where employers – at least in some part – are obliged to test the local labour market before they can import skilled workers, the IFAs do not require such proof, according to an analysis by University of Adelaide Senior Lecturer in Law, Joanna Howe.

“There is no requirement to prove that there is a skill shortage or that the project company has had recruitment difficulties in enticing Australian workers,” Howe said.

For that reason, Howe has little hesitation in branding ChAFTA a “game changer”.

“It allows Chinese companies registered in Australia to import Chinese workers for the duration of projects, so long as the capital expenditure exceeds $150 million,” she said.

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