The working visitor visa regime has seen a large number of our visitors working in casual jobs as they move around the country, alleviating labour market problems that arise from time to time for even the lowest paid jobs. In that respect it has been a successful innovation and when you talk to local employers, generally they love it.
There a couple of reasons. The quality of the visitor labour is very good generally and of course they’re flexible. Those attributes are not always that easy to find quickly from the local labour market. But there must be a couple of common sense checks put on this phenomenon. Firstly is local labour being displaced as visitor after visitor steals the jobs they would otherwise be filling and secondly are these visitor workers keeping wages down for locals? These checks are important because (a) if locals are displaced permanently that means we have to pay unemployment benefit (b) if wages are keep lower than the would otherwise be, we could well find ourselves handing more and more out through Working for Families and similar hardship allowances, and (c) we want wages to rise over time (as long as it’s not inflationary) as that’s how ordinary folk get to share in the spoils of the economy’s success. It is not simply a matter of keeping employers costs as low as possible.
So yes it’s great to have these visitor workers making the low end and casual part of our labour market more flexible and responsive. But within reason. If we get evidence of locals being displaced (as opposed to not having even these skills to do the job competitively) then we need to take action, and if there’s evidence of non-inflationary wage suppression, that’s not smart either. The last thing we want is to fool ourselves that the visitor labour is the best thing since sliced bread only to find that our welfare bills are mounting.