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457 visas vital for cyber security talent pool: experts

Two Australian cyber security experts have called for the cultivation of cyber security talent as the government considers a reform of the 457 visa system.

A 457 visa is a temporary business (long stay) subclass visa which allows businesses to sponsor a skilled worker to fill a job vacancy which cannot be filled with Australian workers. The visa is valid for up to four years. Secondary visas can be given to an applicant's family members.

In February 2013, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Brendan O'Connor announced the government would tighten requirements around 457 visas to ensure it addressed genuine skills shortages and allowed local workers to get a "fair go".

O'Connor has said there could be more than 10,000 breaches under the current 457 visa program, with changes necessary to prevent a blowout in the number of applicants over coming years.

However, in an interview with ABC Radio Opposition Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison refuted O'Connor's assertion that large numbers of 457 visas were being used illegitimately.

He said that a 457 visa discussion paper, prepared by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, only found "rare instances" of an employer discriminating in favour of overseas workers.

According to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, a total of 5800 IT temporary workers were brought into Australia in seven months, compared to 4500 Australian IT undergraduate student completions in 2011.

Earthwave CEO Carlo Minassian said that a "rethink" of cyber defence education on a national level is needed to address the skills shortage especially with the 457 visa measures coming into effect on 1 July 2013.

"Australia simply does not have enough home-grown talent to protect our country. We must import it; while simultaneously cultivating it here on our own soil," he said in a statement.

According to Minassian, an effective Australian approach would be akin to what is happening in Israel where young people with cyber security skills are identified and involved in programs.

"Entry-level government job opportunities for high school and college students have been created and well-funded and Israel's National Cyber Bureau is training students for work in advanced cyber security by using teachers who themselves are former intelligence soldiers with extensive cyber expertise," he said.

Minassian added that even without the 457 visa reform, Australia risks missing out on overseas talent because of its distance from larger markets.

"We just saw the US enter the recruitment market in a huge way by more than quadrupling the size of their cyber command by 4000 technical personnel," he said.

"US defence officials recently acknowledged that they will be hard pressed to find the talent. If they are going to find it difficult, where do you think that leaves Australia which must also compete against a perception of being far away from technical employment centres?"

Griffith University's School of Information and Communications Technology Professor, Michael Blumenstein, agreed with Minassian's comments and said that the skills shortage could make it impossible for Australia to catch up.

"The problem in Australia is that there is little public and business understanding of the precariousness of our cyber security situation," he said.

According to Blumenstein, cyber security education needed to be "incentivised" so that the best talent is attracted to this area.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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