Statement from ITPA Director, Martin Hale - - Ph: 0419 322 844

SYDNEY: July 2017 - A Freedom of Information request lodged by the IT Professionals Association (ITPA) in April about how many 457 visas are being issued in the IT industry has been largely dismissed by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) because the data doesn’t exist, we can’t find it or it’s all too hard.

In light of high unemployment rates amongst Australian IT graduates, ITPA’s FOI application via the independent Right to Know website sought to shed some light on the number of 457 skilled worker visas that were being granted in low-level IT roles.

Having identified anomalies in ABS and Immigration data in regards to 457 visas granted to overseas IT workers and hearing of multiple incidences where employers were bringing overseas workers in to replace locals in an effort to reduce wage bills, ITPA asserts that the information request is reasonable.

Following is a copy of the FOI request lodged by ITPA (N.B. - ITPA’s membership has grown to over 10,000 since this FOI request was lodged).

“Dear Department of Immigration and Border Protection,

With over 8000 members, the IT Professionals Association is the peak body representing Australian IT Support Technicians and systems Administrators. We have received a number of complaints from members about being displaced by lower priced workers being bought in on 457 Visas and we are also concerned about the growth in the number of 457 Visas being awarded for IT Support and System Administration roles.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, could we please be provided with details of the 457 Visas granted over the last 18 months for the following ANZSCO Unit Groups: 
- 2621 - Database and Systems Administrators 
- 2631 - Computer Network Professionals 
- 2632 - ICT Support and Test Engineers 
- 3131 – ICT Support Technicians

The details we are seeking are: 
· Descriptions of the roles that were filled 
· The wages that were / are being paid 
· The market testing that was done to prove that local workers were not available to fill the roles 
· The names of the Companies involved and the number of 457 Visas they were granted

Yours faithfully,

Robert Hudson 
President, ITPA”

As the timeline of the FOI request shows, in June 2017, DIBP provided a small portion of the data requested (the number of visas issued in each category only) but has refused to disclose any additional data.

In doing so it proffered a range of sometimes contradictory excuses that included:

  • “No discrete document currently exists”
  • “Not able to produce the results from its computer systems”
  • “The work required to produce that data would interfere unreasonably with the operations of the department”
  • “Could reasonably be expected to result in a substantial adverse effect on the operations of the Department”
  • “Disclosure of that information to any third parties … could prejudice the effectiveness of the operations of the Department”

Effectively we have been told that the data doesn’t exist, we can’t find it or it’s all too hard.

We are just trying to find out why so many local IT graduates are having great difficulty finding work and why so many low-level IT workers are being brought in from overseas to do work that has traditionally been the entry point into the industry for those same graduates.

In addition, when you look through the open timeline for ITPA’s FOI request - which is all available by clicking hyperlink inserted above - there has been a detailed annotation inserted by a third party which highlights some stark bureaucratic inconsistency in DIBP’s response.

Annotator, Verity Pane concludes that DIBP’s response is “confusing”, that it “contradicts” itself and that the Department has a “checkered history” in dealing with FOI requests.

“In this case, the agency has failed that requirement, and has clearly inferred multiple exemption reasons in a hasty grab-bag of a decision, in a way that is contrary to the FOI Act and its aims and objects,” Pane’s annotation states. “Instead of repeating past mistakes, it would be beneficial to ensure [DIBP’s] FOI management is improved.

ITPA also finds it curious that DIBP’s response informs us all that it does not have any data on what market testing was done by organisations applying for skilled overseas worker visas to accurately identify if the skills were available locally.

We are concerned that some categories of IT workers have been exempted from Labour Market Testing obligations and re-assert previous claims that all categories of jobs in IT sector should be mandatorily subject to this testing through a process that is 100 per cent accountable and transparent.

Clearly, there needs to be an independent auditor and adjudicator to verify that skills are unavailable locally before any organisation can bring in “skilled workers” from abroad to undertake IT professional roles.

The ITPA has now been alerted to many examples where employers have used 457 visas as a tool to lower their total wages costs. Unfortunately, none of the sources are willing to be identified because of fear of repercussions from their employers. 

It is important to stress that ITPA is in full support of a visa system that facilitates organisations to bolster their local IT workforce with skilled overseas workers where there are genuine skills deficiencies locally. We acknowledge the value of that and agree that it is important to help grow high-level skills locally.

What we do not support is abuse of the system where employers use the skilled visa program as a mechanism to lower the costs IT staff, improve profitability with the side-effect of displacing local workers.

ITPA believes 457 visa changes trumpeted by the current federal Government in April and due to be implemented in March next year will not stop abuse of the 457 visas because DIBP does not have the processes and systems in place to monitor how the skilled worker migration visas are being used.

We assert that the only way to stop the abuse is for DIBP to evaluate all requests for 457 visas independently and transparently including the remuneration being offered. In addition, if the requests are deemed valid after a defined process has been completed, details of the vacancies - including full job descriptions - should be published nationally so local IT professionals have an opportunity to apply.    

Based on the unsatisfactory response to this FOI request, the ITPA calls on DIBP to conduct an urgent review on how they are auditing 457 Visa users and how they are responding to legitimate FOI requests.