Opinion

Media agencies can survive without Poms, but we don’t want to

OMD’s Martin Cowie discusses the impact of abolishing the 457 visa and explores why media agencies benefit from working with overseas talent.

In an ironic twist, Malcolm Turnbull took to social media to deliver a worrying blow to the media industry’s access to overseas talent.

Our PM announced that 457 visas will be abolished and with it the business-sponsored route to Australian permanent residency that is so attractive to off-shore media professionals. The effect of these changes will inevitably put increased pressure on a market that already runs with a 6% vacancy rate, according to the MFA.

Ever since I arrived in Australia 13 years ago, on the very same 457 visa that is being abolished, there has been a long-standing joke about the number of ‘Poms’ in the industry and it’s true that for a time many media agencies were led by those ‘Poms’.

Whether they took roles that should have gone to Aussies is open to debate, but most people would agree that the Australian media industry also benefited and grew from the contribution of many quality 457 visa imports.

So, what exactly is happening?

The 457 will be replaced by Temporary Skill Shortage visas but the ‘Marketing Specialist’ profession that agencies normally apply under will now only qualify for a two-year visa (with one potential renewal) and no route to becoming a permanent Aussie by being sponsored by a workplace. The new visa will also be subject to a higher minimum salary ($65,000 excluding super) and police checks. Labour market testing will also be mandatory.

Of course affected individuals should check with an immigration agent to see if their personal situation differs in any way to the above.

A further blow arrived in the Budget when the Treasurer revealed plans to impose a levy to raise $1.2 billion from businesses looking to sponsor overseas employees under the new Temporary Skills Shortage visa.

Businesses will incur a levy of either $1,200 or $1,800 per year per sponsored temporary employee, depending on the turnover of the business. Over the course of four years (the maximum duration a TSS visa can be granted for) businesses can expect to fork out $4,800 or $7,200 for each of their sponsored TSS visa holders. These fees are in addition to the upfront costs of lodging a Standard Business Sponsorship and Business Nomination, the first two steps of the employer sponsorship program, as well as any professional fees for immigration lawyers or agents.

All existing 457 holders will be able to see out the full term of their visa and those who have been on their 457 with an existing employer for two years as at March 2018, will be eligible to apply for permanent residency as usual. However, those under two years, who have travelled from afar on the promised route of becoming an Aussie, have had that opportunity snatched away from them.

There is an alternative permanent residency opportunity for overseas people which is to apply for a 186 Direct Entry visa. This is a two-step visa in which a business nominates an employee and they then apply directly as a skilled overseas worker.

However, this visa application can take many months and no media agency is able to offer jobs eight months in advance of the starting date!

What will be the impact and how can agencies respond?

The numbers of overseas employees in the industry is not clear but if we base it on OMD, as the biggest media agency, then it’s 10%+ of existing staff – not insubstantial. The reduced numbers will likely have two major effects:

  • Wage pressure on existing staff
  • Increased poaching between agencies

With already existing staff shortages and employee remuneration pressures how can agencies react?

  1. Retention strategies: Agencies must double their efforts to make their agencies the most attractive place to work in the market so that employees see no reason to leave
  2. Promote from within: Agencies will need to fast track their young stars to management positions more quickly than previously
  3. Training: With fewer experienced imports, agencies will have to invest further in upskilling their existing employees
  4. Stars and succession: If turnover does increase then it’s vital to have policies in place to at least retain star performers

Universities: The industry will need more ‘comms’ qualified Australian graduates and working with universities and other education institutions will be increasingly important.

The MFA is also speaking with the Comms Council to consider a joint lobbying response to the government, although this may be a long shot.

So, can we survive without the Poms? Of course we can. Do we want to? No. Overseas talent offer alternative views and practices that we can learn from to enrich our local industry.

With the abolishment of the 457 visa, perhaps it is time for media agencies to follow PM Turnbull’s lead. Social, and other forms of media, might be our answer to raising the profile of our industry and attracting Aussie talent to replace the missing flow of new ‘Poms’.

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