The inappropriate use of 457 visas in the nursing industry

Nov 28, 2016

Today I bring to the attention of the House the importance of investing in our nursing workforce and ensuring that there is strong future for Australian nurses. There are almost 10,000 Australian nurses and midwives who cannot find permanent employment; yet we are seeing thousands of 457 visas for nurses being granted. In the last three years, we have seen 3,347 foreign nurses brought into this country under the section 457 temporary skilled migration system. Answering a question in the House last week, the Minister for Immigration said of the 457 visa program:

The objective of the program is to find work for Australians first.

The minister and the government are clearly failing their own test.

If 10,000 nurses cannot find a permanent nursing job, we clearly do not have a skills shortage that justifies the high use of 457 visas. It is just not right that employers, including the NSW government, are continuing to use this visa system to bring in nurses from overseas, when there are thousands of Aussie nurses desperate to find work. The most basic point is that Australian trained nurses and midwives should be accessing employment before foreigners. That is why Labor is rightly calling for a review of temporary workers in Australia.

The most recent figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, an agency of the Department of Health, confirms that almost 10,000 nurses and midwives are looking for work in the industry. A survey of recent nursing graduates by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation revealed the following worrying trends: most graduates who did obtain employment are employed on an uncertain basis through agency, part-time or casual arrangements; many graduates go to incredible lengths to obtain work, such as moving interstate; and, finally, employers identified in the questionnaire as rejecting new graduates use 457 workers.

My region of the Hunter and the Central Coast is most definitely experiencing these trends. The University of Newcastle has a magnificent School of Nursing and Midwifery. Our area health services are a major employer in the Hunter and Central Coast. There are three major public hospitals that service my constituents, Wyong, Belmont and the John Hunter, which is the only trauma hospital between Sydney and Brisbane. The Hunter region also has many private hospitals and aged-care facilities. Unfortunately, we are seeing significant use of 457 visa holders at the cost of local nursing graduates. Confidential data I have seen shows that the number of local nursing graduates who secure a graduate position in the public health system in the Hunter and the Central Coast has declined from 80 per cent to 50 per cent. This is an almost 40 per cent decline in positions. The data also reports that, while some of the graduates find work in private hospitals or in aged-care facilities, most are forced to move away or find non-nursing employment. This is a massive waste of their skills and the investment taxpayers have made in developing their nursing skills and qualifications.

The use of 457 visa nurses in the broader healthcare system is also of concern. I am concerned that these nurses may be exploited by being paid less than Australian nurses. Besides the basic unfairness of this, it also places Australian nurses at a competitive disadvantage. Furthermore, a 457 visa holder has fewer rights than Australian workers and permanent migrants in the workplace. It is much harder for these workers to blow the whistle on any issues relating to the quality of health care or treatment of patients. Let me repeat this: if a worker’s residence in Australia depends upon staying with their current employer, as is the case with 457 visa holders, if they know that they have a short amount of time to find another job if they are sacked or they face deportation, it is much harder for them to risk their job by speaking out if they see something in their workplace that is unacceptable.

We must prioritise employing Australians who have spent years training to be a nurse, or permanent migrants who have greater rights and are committed to making their home in this country. Unemployment on the Central Coast and in Lake Macquarie is well above the national average, and we have the perverse situation where we have qualified local nursing graduates being denied employment and the chance to contribute and make a difference in our community.

Nurses, alongside all other healthcare workers, are essential to our modern, prosperous and healthy society. After significant training, they do a thankless task, working long hours in difficult conditions, often in situations where their personal safety is at risk. That is why I am so angry that thousands of quality-trained Australian nurses cannot obtain permanent employment because of the 457 visa program. Labor does not oppose foreign workers coming here where there is a genuine need, but in our nursing industry this is just not the case. Australian nurses deserve priority over foreign workers and I will continue to advocate on their behalf.

© 2013 Pat Conroy | Disclaimer