Small businesses face an arbitrary restriction to accessing skilled foreign workers including consultants and managers under visa changes, the small business lobby has said.
Under new restrictions, introduced on Tuesday after the government announced the replacement of skilled 457 visas, businesses with a turnover of less than $1m cannot access certain categories of workers on new temporary work visas.
As employers get advice on the application of new visa conditions, unions have complained that rules restricting access to temporary work visas don’t go far enough to prevent rorting of the system.
The department of immigration has published a list of occupations that are eligible for temporary skilled work visas, many of which have restrictions on the circumstances in which foreign workers can be brought to Australia.
A new legislative instrument made by the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, excludes positions in businesses with turnover of less than $1m from the scheme for occupations including accountants; event organisers; management consultants; chief executives and general managers; transport, sales, marketing and customer service managers.
For many of those classifications, businesses with fewer than five employees are also excluded from getting skilled foreign workers.
Guardian Australia understands the exemptions are designed to prevent small family businesses using the temporary work visa scheme to sponsor relatives, although Dutton did not respond to questions.
Peter Strong, the Council of Small Business Australia chief executive, said he was concerned that the minister had used an arbitrary figure to limit access to skilled foreign workers.
“I’ve got a real problem with that – you shouldn’t cull [participation based] on turnover,” he said.
“They should remove it – if you’re a business facing the same difficulty meeting demand [for a job], it doesn’t matter whether you’re turning over $100m or less than $1m or are just a one-person company.”
Strong said there may not be many cases where businesses of that size needed to hire a foreign worker, but where they did the new rule could be an “inhibitor” to growth.
“I have no problem with trying to close loopholes, but a business of any size should be able to prove they … need that person.”
Other caveats specify that foreign chefs, cooks, and restaurant managers can’t be employed as skilled workers in fast food or take-away restaurants. It follows an earlier decision to ban fast food restaurants from hiring workers on 457 visas.
Ged Kearney, the Australian Council of Trade Unions president, said there had been rorting of the 457 visa system and widespread abuse of all other temporary visas like the backpackers’ visa which the government had done nothing to address.
“The ‘new visas’ still have the same problems – it’s nothing more than a rebranding exercise from the government,” she said.
Kearney queried why professions like roof tiler, carpenter, chef, cook, midwife, nurse practitioner, real estate agent and librarian still qualified as skilled when Australians could be trained to do them.
“The so-called caveats also do not go far enough to protect foreign workers from exploitation and will not stop the rorting of the system,” she said.