One of the country’s most successful tech entrepreneurs has said the 457 temporary work visa was axed by a government in panic over a bubble in housing prices.
Freelancer.com founder and chief executive Matt Barrie, while admitting the 457 visa was in need of reform, told Business Insider that the changes to the skilled labour program were a blunt instrument to cool real estate prices.
“This is a property bubble that successful Australian governments have done everything they can to keep reflating, because when it pops, it threatens to bring down the Australian economy — and right now, it’s panic stations.”
The hot property market, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, has become a political challenge at both federal and state government levels. Federal treasurer Scott Morrison is tipped to announce some level of policy response – such as a dollar cap on negative gearing and a limit on number of investment properties – to curb the growth in prices when he hands down the budget next month.
A National Australia Bank study showed that in the first quarter of this year, overseas investors bought up 10% of all new housing and more than 7% of existing stock in Australia. This demand is what Barrie believes the government is trying to quell with the elimination of the 457 visa.
“Australians households are #2 in the world for household debt-to-GDP [ratio] — $2 trillion in unconsolidated household debt to $1.6 trillion in GDP,” he said.
“When housing crashes, and it will, it’s going to pull a large part of the economy with it.”
Why do tiny cafes need 457 workers?
Barrie said that there would be no technology industry in Australia without foreign workers, with something like two-thirds of computing graduates originating from overseas. But he had been puzzled by some of the less specialised jobs that were eligible in the 457 program.
“I am bamboozled why chefs and panel beaters are on the 457 skilled jobs list — where chefs are being sponsored not by high end restaurants but by small cafes,” he said.
The Sydney entrepreneur accused “shonky” education providers of acting as “a thinly veiled immigration industry” by fast-tracking foreigners through to Australian residency “through courses to be a beautician or accountant”.
“I can tell you right away that whoever put together the list for 457 jobs had no idea what they were talking about.”
Even among technology jobs, Barrie believes the scheme was in need of reform, accusing the industry body Australian Computer Society of putting up antiquated and irrelevant job descriptions on the 457 eligibility list.
“While I know what a ‘software engineer’ and ‘computer network and systems engineer’ is, I have no idea what half of the following jobs such as ‘ICT business analyst’, ‘systems analyst’, ‘analyst programmer’ and ‘developer programmer’ that the Australian Computer Society thinks we are in desperate need of are,” he said.
“If the government wants to save money, the ACS is a group for which all government funding should be immediately and permanently cut in my opinion.”
In a statement to Business Insider, ACS denied that it receives government funding.
“The ACS is an independent, membership-based not-for-profit. The ACS does not receive funding from the government,” the organisation stated.
“We understand Matt’s interests lie in supporting offshore talent and there is an important role for that. The ACS has long held the position of helping support our local industry to grow, train and skill its own professionals, which is why we invest strongly in programs and support systems around these areas.”
ACS earlier on Wednesday welcomed the government’s changes to the temporary skilled worker program, especially the more stringent local training obligations placed on employers.
“While labour market testing and training benchmarks have previously existed in the 457 Visa framework, we see tightened criteria under a TSS programme as an important signal that the Turnbull Government understands the need to treat Australia’s human capital as a strategic asset,” said ACS president Anthony Wong.
“Skilled migration in all its forms should be a source of competitive advantage for any country. It should never be at the expense of the domestic labour market and attracting full workforce participation.”
Barrie founded Sydney-based Freelancer.com in 2009 and pulled off an IPO on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2013. The company posted a record $52.75 million of revenue for the 2016 calendar year, while harvesting a small net profit of $100,000.