Restaurateurs are warning that the Federal Government’s move to overhaul the 457 visa program will put their businesses at great risk as it will only worsen the serious skills shortage problem currently faced by the hospitality industry.
The changes, which were announced in April, plan to do away with the pathway to permanent residency for key positions including restaurant managers, bakers and cooks.
Apart from hurting business owners’ plans for expansion, there are concerns that the quality and diversity of the Australian dining scene could also suffer.
Celebrity chef Neil Perry, for example, employs 3000 staff across the different restaurants he owns in Sydney, a third of whom are on a temporary work visa or student visa.
Speaking to ABC News Australia, he said: “[Workers on 457 visas] are super important for the restaurant industry because there are skills we need to bring in, both back- and front-of-house, in cooking, service [and] sommeliers,”
Although he’s been keen to fill the positions with Australian staff, this hasn’t always been possible because of a lack of the required skill set.
The abolition of the 457 visa category was designed to ensure job vacancies in the country were filled by Australian workers as much as possible, and that employers did not use recruitment of foreign workers as a cop out.
However, immigration consultants in Australia don’t agree that using migrant workers is a quick fix solution. In fact, the opposite is true, they say.
“Australian companies that sponsor work visas spend as much as $4,000 to $5,000 to recruit personnel and therefore only do so as a last resort,” said an immigration agent based in Sydney who sought anonymity.
There is also a feeling that removal of the pathway to permanent residency for migrant workers will only increase the level of uncertainty for those already living and working in Australia.
But a spokesman for the Federal Government was quick to clarify that “the 457 visa is a temporary visa and should not be taken to as a guarantee of permanent residency in the future. At any rate foreign chefs, restaurant managers et cetera remain eligible for sponsorship under the new system, but it doesn’t mean they are a substitute for Australian workers”.
Restaurant owners like Nino Zoccali acknowledge that the most talented foreign workers would not risk migrating to Australia if the move wasn’t long term; something which will make the talent pool in the local hospitality industry shrink further. This could end up hurting the tourism sector as a whole.
Already there is fear that there could be a skills shortage of 120,000 workers by 2020 in the hospitality and tourism industry.
“Service is a skill,” he says, “if you don’t think that, it’s crazy to go out and promote Australian restaurants and tourism around the world and waste our money.”
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