By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier

Hoteliers and the wider hospitality industry are on edge, as they await more details in regards to the Federal Government’s 457 visa replacement.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the scrapping of the 457 visa program, stating: “We are ensuring that Australian jobs and Australian values are first, placed first.

During the press conference, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, announced that 457 visa will be replaced with two alternate visas, that do not foster as much agency for permanent residency.

“What we propose is that under the Temporary Skills Shortage Visa short-term stream there will be a two-year visa, with the options of two-years, but there would not be permanent residency outcomes at the end of that.

“In relation to the medium-term stream, which as the Prime Minister pointed out, is targeted at higher skills, a much shorter skills list, that will be for a period of four years, can be applied for onshore or offshore, and it’s a significant tightening of the way in which that programme operates.

According to the Department of Immigration, in 2014 cooks represented the third-largest usage of the 457 visa, after software/application programmers and general practitioners and residential medical officers.

The AHA has called on the Government to ensure that the needs of the hospitality industry are met within the new visa program.

“The hospitality industry is growing at unprecedented rates at the present and the demand for skilled labour is at all-time highs with this complete transformation of Australia’s hotel industry,” said AHA CEO, Stephen Ferguson.

Indeed, the Government’s own Australian Tourism Labour Force Report estimated that the tourism and hospitality sector will require an additional 123,000 workers by 2020, including 60,000 skilled positions.

“Australia’s hospitality sector has responded with a wide range of training and career development programs, but with such a rapid increase in tourism it is impossible to meet the demand for skilled labour in the short-term through local channels, especially in regional and remote Australia.”

With the exact details of the new Temporary Short- and Medium-Term Visa programs, yet to be revealed, most hoteliers are withholding judgment at this stage, but a few were wary of the additional strain the scrapping of the 457 visa would place on finding kitchen staff.

“I am still waiting to hear the finer detail about the announcement from Turnbull so as to fully understand the implications of this for the hospitality sector. But on face value, it does not seem to be founded in a sound consideration of the facts attributable to the current skills shortages being experienced in the hospitality sector,” opined Christian Denny, licensee of Hotel Harry and The Dolphin.

For Angela Gallagher, group general manager of Gallagher Hotels, the replacement of the 457 visa program will create another hurdle in finding quality staff.

“Need to read the fine print, but it’s not good news for us. We employ many on working holiday visas – the backpacker tax has increased, and now this.

Many have questioned the motive behind the replacement of the visa program, which addresses a staffing shortage in the industry. Andy Mullins of Sand Hill Road, sang the praises of the 457 visa, and has expressed his surprise at yesterday’s announcement.

“The devil’s in the detail at this stage, but my first response is 457s haven’t been about overseas workers taking Australian jobs, it’s just not the case. We’ve got 457s in the kitchens where we have such a massive shortage of supply and labour, and 457s have been the perfect panacea to that. For us it’s perfect because we’ve got incredibly hardworking, passionate, loyal staff. It obviously hasn’t been designed in our interest because the 457 is working.

Not all the reaction was negative, however, with AHA WA’s CEO, Bradley Woods, welcoming the changes.

“The new visa system appears to strike the balance between supporting young Australians who are looking for work and supporting businesses who can’t find enough skilled locals to fill positions. The new visas also remove the pathway to permanent residency for low-skilled workers.”

While many are awaiting the fine print of the new visa program, Matt Jenkins of Overseas Chef Placement has suggested that the new program will not be out into place until March 2018, and the 457 application process will continue as normal this year.