On the same day that US President Donald Trump was expected to order a review of the popular H-1B visa program, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put up his own wall. Turnbull announced that he was abolishing the 457 visa program, a migrant worker scheme very popular among Indians looking to move to Australia. The 457 program will be replaced by another visa scheme, one that will make it harder for temporary workers to apply for permanent residence.
These moves, in the US and America, will make it harder for Indian citizens to move to those countries. Both the H-1B program and the 457 visa have been dominated by Indians in recent years, and have often been used as a path towards permanent residency. This impression has helped build the impression that Indians are taking away jobs meant for locals in both the countries, with the rhetoric around tightening the rules reflecting this nationalist sentiment.
According to the Australian government, for example, most of the Indians who migrated in 2014-15 did so under the 457 program.
Technically speaking, the 457 visa is a temporary one for skilled workers, but it was one of the few that offered a path to citizenship for those who continued to work in the country. As a result, many Indians chose to take the 457 route with the aim of converting it into permanent residency, and eventually citizenship. Researchers at the Australian National University found that as much as 89% of the Indians who had traveled on the 457 program intended to apply for permanent residency.
That path is now cut off. Australia said it will be replacing the 457 process with the new Temporary Skill Shortage visas in 2018. These will come in a two categories, a two-year visa and a four-year one with more stringent requirements. Crucially for Indians hoping to use the 457 route, the new two-year visa cannot be used as a pathway to permanent residency. The new rules won’t apply to those currently on 457 visas.
The story is similar in the United States. In the last few years, tens of thousands of Indians have migrated to America through the H-1B visa programme. As with the 457 programme, the H-1B is technically a non-immigrant visa meant for temporary employment of foreign workers with specialised skills. Here too, however, data shows that many use the H-1B as a pathway to permanent residency.
Although this path remains open, US President Donald Trump has already made it harder for the visas to be granted, reflected in the fact that H-1B applications this year dropped for the first time in five years. Trump has also promised that his review process will end up ensuring the H-1B programme makes it harder for foreigners to get jobs that, in his view, ought to go to Americans.