Photo: Nic Walker
The technology sector's use of temporary skilled migration visas grew nearly 75 per cent over the past two years, and has trebled for IT managers during the same period, as major technology companies continue to cut local staff and attempt to find experienced workers.
The new figures come after the federal government attempted last month to curb over-use of the 457 visa scheme, which allows companies to sponsor migrants to work for up to four years.
According to a new study released on Tuesday by the Australian Workplace and Productivity Agency, some 9271 workers classified as computer professionals were awarded 457 temporary skilled migration visas during the 2011/2012 financial year, up from 7861 in 2010/2011, and 5327 the year before.
At the same time the number of IT managers hired under 457 visas trebled over two years, from 268 to 804 in 2011/2012.
Technology staff accounted for 13.5 per cent of all 457 visas awarded last year, though the scheme remains a small proportion of the 460,800 total IT workers in Australia.
AWPA chief executive Robin Shreeve said although enrolments in tertiary IT courses had risen since 2008, a perceived lack of experience and skills required in some areas of the industry had caused companies to increase use of the visas.
"The reason some companies have gone for 457s is not because of the educational background but some of the people they perceive to have more experience," he told The Australian Financial Review.
"IT is pretty critical to the economy. We believe it will pick up if we can change the local perception of IT careers."
Global technology giant IBM reportedly began a job cuts program last month that will see as many as 1500 staff let go from its Australian operations.
It is believed the cost-cutting drive, which IBM says is needed to grow its business, will affect senior consultants, some of which are likely to be replaced by cheaper staff in Australia or at IBM's other global offices.
Mr Shreeve said IT companies were not doing enough to build experience in the sector.
"It's a bit ironic that lots of undergraduates work up to 20 hours a week to pay for themselves but they're often working in bars and restaurants," he said.
"Employers sometimes whinge about not having work-ready graduates but you also need graduate-ready employers."
Former prime minister Julia Gillardaccused the IT industry in March of flagrantly using the scheme, amid claims one in 20 IT companies had hired 457 workers.
"It is just not acceptable that information technology jobs, the quintessential jobs of the future, the very opportunities being created by the digital economy, precisely where the big picture is for our kids, should be such a big area of imported skills," she said at the time.
Legislative changes pushed through Parliament last month now require companies to show they have attempted to fill a position locally first before hiring overseas and give the Fair Work Ombudsman greater powers to investigate potential breaches of the visa scheme.
But technology industry bodies claimed the changes were not necessary.
"457 visa arrangements are used legitimately by the ICT sector to meet a genuine gap that currently exists between the domestic supply and demand of ICT skills," said Suzanne Campbell, chief executive of the Australian Information Industry Association.
"Allegations that the ICT sector is one of the worst offenders in what the Federal Government says is the 'overuse of 457 visas' are exactly that: allegations. To date, no data has been offered up to substantiate these claims."