Free TV Australia calls for visa reforms

23 February, 2015 by Don Groves

The commercial free-to-air broadcasters have called on the government to reform the process of granting visas to foreign actors and crew to work in Australia screen productions.

Free TV Australia contends the 30-year-old requirement for the Arts Minister to approve temporary visas for employment workers is outdated and unnecessary.


Simplifying the subclass 420 visa rules “will not result in an influx of foreign entertainment industry workers because Australian audiences value and demand Australian content and Australian actors,” says Free TV CEO Julie Flynn in her submission to the government’s review.

In common with the Screen Producers Australia submission, the broadcasters advocate removing the requirement for the Minister to consult the relevant union, the MEAA, so the subclass 420 visa rules are aligned with other temporary work visas.

Both bodies also call for the abolition of the sponsorship and nomination requirements because the number of applicants seeking entry is limited and presents a low risk.

In its submission the MEAA contends that removing the certification system will lead to the “complete dismantling of industry protections and would have a significant and detrimental impact on the industry.”

The union supports the existing sponsorship and nomination requirements as necessary to protect visa holders and ensure that employers seeking to import artists and technicians are of good standing and are financially viable.

“The Arts Minister should play a role in regulating the amount of foreign actors working in the government- supported audiovisual arts sector on cultural grounds,” it says.

“The Australian screen industry is fragile. Apart from India, no film and television industry anywhere in the world survives without protections. All other countries provide some combination of subsidies and visa controls to protect to their local arts industry.

“In the US, access to the screen industry is robustly regulated through the Citizenship and Immigration Services as well as union and labour laws. It is entirely appropriate for governments to adopt policy and regulatory measures which protect the Australian arts industry and which foster and provide opportunity for local talent and skills.”

Free TV Australia points out the Arts Minister issued certificates for only 114 individuals who were assessed as requiring certification in 2013/2014.

More than 90% subclass 420 visa holders stayed in Australia for less than 12 weeks and they often fulfilled roles that could not easily be substituted by Australian performers, for example as judges on The Voice and The X Factor.

Both SPA and Free TV oppose the proposal in a departmental working paper that would replace the certification process with the requirement that importing actors or crew will bring a Net Employment Benefit (NEB) to the Australian entertainment industry.

“This would simply replace one administrative hurdle with another, as applicants would then need to provide additional documentation to demonstrate a NEB,” Flynn says.

Free TV and SPA both say the sole criteria should be that hiring foreign actors does not have adverse consequences for the employment or training opportunities for Australians.

MEAA argues, “This test brings little of value. It is a subjective test and can only be assessed retrospectively. This would add further uncertainty to the visa process as well as giving rise to significant issues of enforceability. How would such a test be monitored? What penalties would apply in the event that adverse consequences arose?

“Further, a ‘no adverse consequences’ test fails at the first hurdle on an Australian production. Each foreign actor or technician is taking a job otherwise undertaken by an Australian. Axiomatically, the consequence is adverse.”