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Axing 457 visas: the remote bottom line

Peak bodies in healthcare have raised concerns over the capacity of rural and remote services to meet workforce demand following the government’s announcement that it will axe 457 visas.

The calls follow Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement via a Facebook video that 457 visas will be replaced with a temporary visa that will include new requirements surrounding previous work experience and English-language proficiency.

Alison Verhoeven, chief executive of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association, said she’s worried that the fairly quick decision that seems to have been made by the government without thinking through all of the implications, particularly in rural and regional areas, may leave some holes in service delivery.

Verhoeven said the removal of 457 visas would affect a range of health professions in region or rural and remote Australia, including aged care and disability services.

“There is a concern, I think, that a sudden change in the approach to the use of 457 visas is potentially going to have a negative impact in rural and remote areas, particularly if there aren't alternative options available in a very quick time frame to be able to respond to those workforce requirements,” she said.

A secondary issue surrounds the capacity to convert a 457 visa longer term to permanent residency, Verhoeven said. “Often, the approach has been for people to come in on a 457 visa, particularly to a rural or remote area, to enjoy working in that community, and to then seek to stay in that community as a permanent resident.

“It is something for us to think carefully about, at the same time as balancing against the need to be able to provide opportunities for Australians who've trained as nurses or in other health professions to secure employment.

“We have to think through the strategies fairly carefully.”

Chief executive of the National Rural Health Alliance David Butt agreed that the removal of 457 visas will have an immediate and potentially significant impact on the recruitment of health professionals in rural and remote Australia.

“I would love to be in the situation where we rely on locally trained health professionals to fill all vacancies in rural and remote communities, but that is still many years away,” Butt said. “Without overseas trained health professionals, many rural and remote communities would simply be without access to health care."

Butt noted that there will be a new class of visa available. “While I have not yet seen the requirements, I would urge the government to be mindful of the need to ensure implementation does not impact negatively on the health needs of the 7 million people living outside Australia’s major cities,” he said.

He said any replacement for the 457 visa must not put the health of rural Australians at risk.

The same sentiment for the aged care sector was shared by Aged Care Guild chief executive Cameron O’Reilly, who said: "Ensuring we have a skilled workforce is important and migrant workers clearly play a part in that, so it is important that any replacement arrangements do not adversely affect the sector".

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