More than one Chinese real estate agent was brought to Australia on a 457 visa every week during 2016 to allow businesses to take advantage of the offshore investment boom.
The 2016 figures for the 457 program released this week show there were slightly fewer workers in Australia on the controversial temporary visa at the end of 2016 – 81,298 – than there were at the end of 2015 – 85,901.
Australia doesn’t have enough Chinese-speaking real estate agents, according to the latest figures on the 457 visa program.
But real estate agents bucked the downward trend, with the highest growth among all common occupations (those with at least 100 visas).
There were 253 real estate agents on 457 visas who enjoyed New Year’s Eve in Australia last year – a tenfold increase since 2013, and up 81 in a single year. More than half came from China.
Property recruitment specialist Sharon Bennie told SBS most have been in property development or project marketing businesses but are increasingly in property management.
“(Initially businesses) were looking for Chinese language skills to be able to translate their marketing collateral and make sure there weren’t any slights or errors,” she said.
“That’s expanded into real estate agencies as properties are settling – they’re obviously owned by investors who are largely, in the CBD and CBD fringes, Chinese.
“Any of the property managers or the building managers that are going to have to be dealing with the landlord, that language skill becomes essential.”
Malcolm Gunning, President of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, told SBS specific language skills in regional dialects were needed depending on where development projects were sold.
“(The Chinese agents) act as a conduit to the market, and if they’re selling in Guangzhou (for example), often there might be a 457 visa come over,” he said.
Mr Gunning said he had some concerns about how easy it was to become a real estate agent in some states, reflecting on the low skill level needed for 457 visa workers. 457 workers need qualifications and experience commensurate a local worker in the same role.
But he said the trend was not the “not the beginning of an avalanche of Chinese sellers”.