Are there really more than a million 457 visa holders in Australia?

Ms Jacqui Lambie, Australian Independent Senator, has brought the attention to the 457 visa, saying that the number of 457 visa holders is the reason why there are not a lot of opportunities for employment in the country at present.

”We have over a million 457s out there, and that is another reason why we don’t have jobs here,” stated Senator Lambie at an interview with ABC TV’s Q&A dated 30th of May 2016.

Is Senator Lambie telling a fact? Are there really more than a million 457 visa workers ”out there” like what she is suggesting? Let’s see what ABC Fact Check has found out.

The Findings

What Senator Lambie said is simply not correct. In fact, it’s further from the truth.

This checking of facts have been based on the research of a prior fact check relating to 457 visa numbers in the country. It has been further updated with the new data provided by the Australian government.

Statistics that came from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection show that the number of individuals who have been provided with 457 visas (both primary and secondary) which have not yet expired at the date of the last available information provided to the public (dated 31st of March 2016) was 415,103. So you see, it has not even reached half a million yet.

On March 31st 2016, the number of people who were actually using the 457 visas in the country was just 177,390.

How was this claim made?

The Coalition Government under the Howard regime was the one that introduced the 457 visa back in 1996, enabling employers so that labour shortages can be addressed by bringing in bona fide skilled workers from overseas whenever they are having a hard time finding suitably skilled workers from Australia.

The office of Senator Lambie was asked by Fact Check where they got information to support their claim, and was provided with a document from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, which had a table that included the breakdowns of the temporary entrants’ numbers. This also had the subclass 457 visa, as well as the numbers of other visas such subclass 444 (New Zealand visa holders), and the subclass 485 (for temporary graduates).

A spokesman for the office of Senator Lambie stated that the Senator made use of the 457 visa term in the broadest sense and its most commonly known form.

The Senate Education and Employment References Committee released a report in March of this year regarding temporary workers being exploited.

A joint submission from 5 departments in the government to that inquiry stated that aside from the 457 visa holders, there are 5 types of temporary entrants which have been given permission for either full or partial work rights:

  • Those who are holding New Zealand visas
  • Temporary graduate visas
  • Working holiday maker visas, and
  • ”Other” temporary visas.

”The committee acknowledges that much of the policy focus to date on temporary visas has been focussed specifically on the 457 visa program,” stated in the report. ”By examining the range of temporary visas with work rights, this report shines a light on hitherto less explored aspects of temporary migration policy and makes recommendations across a range of areas.”

Because the focus of politicians has been mainly on 457 visas, the effect of other types of temporary work rights for foreign workers have been overshadowed.

It is being considered that the use of the ”457s” term pertains to only the subclass of the temporary visa, and it does not include any of the other subclasses which are contained in the document provided by the Immigration Department, which are for other purposes and may need other responses in terms of policy.

The 457 Visas

The matter regarding 457 visa workers have already been looked into in a prior fact check, because of a claim made by Senator Michaelia Cash, the Minister for Employment.

According to a Parliamentary Library report, there are 2 types of applicants who could potentially be given a 457 visa: Primary and secondary.

What does primary mean? A primary applicant is the foreign worker who has received a sponsorship from an Australian employer. The secondary applicant is the foreign worker’s (primary) dependent or family member, who is also given permission to study and work in Australia.

Secondary applicants are allowed to apply for a job where skilled labour is not a shortage.

Because the distinction between the primary and secondary applicants were not provided by Senator Lambie, her claim was assessed regarding the combined total of the 2 types of applicants. The Senator stated that there are at least over a million of 457 visa holders ”out there.”

This could mean the number of individuals who are at present working in the country on a 457 visa. It could also mean the number of visas which have already been granted and are not cancelled or expired, both in and out of the country.

According to a booklet provided by the DIBP, the ”Temporary Work (Skilled) (subclass 457) visa” gives permission to businesses to hire overseas workers anywhere from a day up to 4 years in skilled occupations, which are included in the Migration Regulations.

It also stated that when it comes to the number of times the individual holding a 457 visa can travel in and out of the country, there is no limit to that.

Therefore, it considers that the upper limit for the volume of 457 visas ”out there” is the number of visas granted for the past 4 years, as those that were granted prior to that would mean it had already reached its expiration.

So how many 457s are really ”out there”?

Quarterly statistics are released by the Department of Immigration regarding the number of 457 visa holders in the country at the end of each quarter, and for March 2016, which is the most recent quarter, there were 97,766 primary, and 79,624 secondary visa holders. If you add that together, that comes to 177,390.

The Immigration Department also comes out with quarterly statistics regarding the number of 457 visas which have been given in that quarter.

For the June quarter of 2011 to 2012, a total of 31,327 primary and secondary visas were given.

The number of granted primary and secondary visas for the whole financial year of 2012 to 2013 was 126,348, and 98,571 for the financial year of 2013 to 2014. In 2014 to 2015, it was 96,084.

For the 9 months to March of this year, the number of primary and secondary visas granted were 62,773. Add all of that together and you get a total of 415,103 granted primary and secondary visas, which as you can see, is way too far from what was being claimed as ”over a million” which was claimed by Senator Lambie as a fact.