The National Rural Health Alliance is worried uncertainty surrounding the 457 visa changes could affect the rural health care workforce.
NRHA CEO David Butt said country healthcare was reliant on skilled foreign workers, because many trained Australian health professionals simply don’t want to move out into the bush.
“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,” he said.
“Without overseas trained health professionals, many rural and remote communities would simply be without access to health care.”
The full details of the 457 visa replacement scheme have not been fully released yet, and Mr Butt asked the government to make sure regional health does not suffer.
“I note that a new class of visa will be available, and 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 seven million people living outside Australia’s major cities,” he said.
“The people who live in rural and remote Australia have higher rates of diseases than their city cousins, and have poorer health outcomes, with death rates up to 60 per cent higher for coronary heart disease and 35 per cent higher for lung cancer.
“Whatever replaces the 457 visa must ensure we do not put the health of these seven million people at further risk.”
Forty per cent of the rural health care force is made up of skilled foreign workers, although they are not all on 457 visas.
The Murrumbidgee Local Health Network, which includes Tumut, asked not to comment at this stage.
Elsewhere in local industry, apple producers say the changes are highly unlikely to affect their orchards.
The apple-picking workforce, while largely foreign, draws on backpackers, who utilise an entirely different visa.
Grower Barney Hyams said he was not aware of a single 457 visa employee in the Batlow orchards.
“I hear the delivery guys are going absolutely berserk about it up in Queensland, but most of the people we employ are on 417 visas (for backpackers),” he said.
“I think they made enough of a mess of the backpacker tax!
“But obviously they’re concerned with the amount of social welfare they’re paying, they’re trying to get the unemployment rate down – fair enough – and they’re trying to get big business to employ apprentices again.”
Meanwhile, Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly said the Prime Minister’s recent announcement regarding changes to the 457 visa is purely an act to save his own skin.
Mr Turnbull said the Government wanted to “recruit the best and the brightest in the national interest”, adopting a “jobs for Australians” mentality. Mr Kelly believes that the changes, however, represent a Prime Minister frantic to save his own job.
“The announcement on 457 visas demonstrates that Malcolm Turnbull is desperate to save one job – his own,” said Mr Kelly.
“That’s why he has made his announcement with very little detail to back it up.
“There is very little detail around the announcement and at best, it is nothing more than a marketing exercise in the rebranding of 457 visas.
“If the Turnbull Government was serious about addressing the shortfalls in the 457 visa scheme they wouldn’t have voted against Labor’s moves to impose stricter controls on visa requirements when they were in opposition,” he said.
The announced changes would see the number of occupations eligible for two-year visas reduced and would also stop the ‘open-ended’ nature of visas, which often lead to migration.
Current visa holders will not be affected by the changes, which will see the introduction of two new temporary skilled visas – a two-year visa and a more specialised one for four years targeted at ‘higher skills’.
The 457 visa is designed to fill job vacancies that are difficult to find Australians for and currently, there are 95,758 people who have the visa, including family visas.
The most common origin countries are India, the UK, and China.