Australian companies continue to prefer to source talent from local pools rather than 457 visa holders, according to the latest survey conducted by industry association Consult Australia.

The Association’s latest skills survey shows that 59 per cent of the country’s consulting engineering firms recruited between one and four per cent of new staff from the migrant labour pool in the 2012 calendar year, while 18 per cent of the industry did not recruit any skilled migrants over the same period.

Consult Australia says the results represent a ‘marked change’ from previous years, where the same survey found that 20 per cent of the country’s top consulting engineering firms were recruiting between 16 and 30 per cent of new staff from overseas.

Consult Australia Chief Executive Officer, Megan Motto said the survey results validate the industry’s ongoing claims that skilled migrants are only employed as a last resort.

“Consult Australia’s 2013 skills survey unequivocally proves that employers have responded to the current employment market downturn by reducing their use of skilled migrants,” said Ms Motto.

Ms Motto says the findings disprove claims made by unions that the visa program takes jobs from Australians.

“The fact is that where possible, Australian firms do favour Australian workers but where we do not have those skills available onshore, there must be the ability to source those skills from overseas,” Ms Motto said.

The findings come after the Federal Government has proposed a range of changes to the program, including requiring prospective employers prove the need for skilled migrant labour and forbidding them from reallocating 457 visa holders to areas where local skill can be sourced.