About 10,000 Filipinos are staying in Australia under a scheme known as the 457 temporary work visa scheme, composing nine percent of the country's 110,570 professional, highly-skilled foreign workers.
At nine percent ratio, Filipinos placed third to nationals of the United Kingdom and India —- which are both Commonwealth countries like Australia -- in foreign employment under the 457-visa scheme.
This was highlighted in a recent report to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) by Philippine Ambassador to Australia Teresa Lazaro, based on information from the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).
She said that Filipinos on the 457 work visa are mostly in the health care service such as nurses, accountants and teachers. She clarified that the visa scheme is available to all qualified countries.
Ambassador Lazaro presented the data amid reports of looming widespread unemployment Down Under, and assured that the labor market is wide open to qualified foreigners.
The 457 work visa enables Australian employers to hire skilled overseas workers for nominated job positions for a period of four months to four years, explained Lazaro.
The Australian government does not limit the quota for 457 visa holders and allows the number to be market-driven.
DIAC records show that workers from the United Kingdom compose close to one-fourth (25 percent) of the total, 14 percent are from India, nine percent from the Philippines, and six percent each from South Africa, China and the United States.
There has been an increase of 27 percent in the period 2007-2008 when compared to the previous year, according to DIAC data.
A high 81 percent of these foreign workers were employed for professional occupations and highly-skilled jobs. The top three occupations were computing professionals, registered nurses, and business and information professionals.
The average basic annual salary is Australian dollar 73,100 (USD 46,460).
The DFA said the Australian government "takes measures that the 457-visa program does not become a cheap labor scheme" and has used safeguards such as monitoring employers for compliance with requirements, penalizing employers for breaches of sponsorship obligations, and enforcing the rights of workers.
"The government is even updating the current measures to spot and punish exploitation and to improve the integrity of the 457-visa program," the DFA said.
Australia is also studying the current minimum salary provisions, English language proficiency requirements, health and safety protection, training requirements, and the opportunities for labor agreements to play a greater role in the 457-visa program.
Last November, a Philippine team met in Australia with counterparts to present the Philippines’ long-term provision of skilled workers and professionals under the 457-visa program.
The visit followed up on the Second Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM) held in Manila in October.
In that October PAMM, the two countries plotted the course for bilateral cooperation in such areas as trade-in-services and the movement of natural persons.
The Philippine delegation was composed of representatives from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
The team went to the state of South Australia, where it discussed with state officials a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on labor cooperation between the Australian state of South Australia and DOLE.
The draft MOU included the following issues: cooperation on recruitment procedures and practices in relation to the movement of natural persons; strengthening cooperation in educational and technical training, bridging courses.
Also included were institutional twinning arrangements between Philippine and Australian universities and training centers, and mutual recognition arrangements for priority skills and professions.
The delegation also held initial discussions in Sydney with the Nurses and Midwives Board and the College of Nursing of the University of Western Sydney on the matter of registered nurses.
The Filipinos, led by DOLE Undersecretary Rosalinda Baldoz, also met with representatives of Australian companies and recruitment agencies hiring skilled Filipino workers and professionals under the 457 work visa program in Sydney, Perth and Cairns. (PNA Features)