Australia cracks down on visa scheme used by foreign workers including Singaporeans

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaking as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton listens on during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on April 18, 2017.
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaking as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton listens on during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on April 18, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

Australia is adopting a tougher skilled foreign workers’ programme, abolishing the 457 visa scheme used by about 170,000 people and their families, including more than 500 Singaporeans.

Signalling that Australia is set to follow other developed nations and adopt a harder line on immigration, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday (April 18) the move was “all about Australia’s interest”.

The 457 programme will be replaced by two temporary skilled visas – one lasting two years and the other four years. The visas will impose tougher English language tests, stricter labour market testing, at least two years of work experience and a police check.

Fees will rise from A$1,060 (S$1,118) to A$1,150 for the two-year visa, with a A$2,400 fee for the four-year visa.

Mr Turnbull said the new programme aimed to ensure that foreign workers were only hired to fill skill gaps and not “simply because an employer finds it easier to recruit a foreign worker than go to the trouble of hiring an Australian”.

“We are putting jobs first, we are putting Australians first,” he said. 

“We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs,” he added.

The new scheme starts immediately and will be fully implemented by March 2018. 

Those currently holding 457 visas – which last four years – will be exempt from the changes. 

Government figures show that 522 Singaporeans – including their family members - were granted 457 visas in 2015-16, 650 in 2014-15, 608 in 2013-14 and 679 in 2012-13. 

As of last September, 95,757 workers in Australia were on 457 visas and 76,430 people were in Australia on associated secondary, or family, visas.

The main source nations of 457 visa holders were India, which accounted for about a quarter of all visas, followed by Britain at 19.5 per cent and China, at 5.8 per cent.

The Government is also slashing the number of occupations available for the new visas, from more than 650. Some of the jobs that are most commonly listed by applicants are cook, café manager, marketing specialist, chef and developer programmer.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the existing four-year scheme often led to workers settling in Australia. 

Not so the new scheme. Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton said the new visas would not lead to permanent residency.

The opposition Labor party has previously indicated it will consider toughening the visa programme. Labor leader Bill Shorten accused Mr Turnbull of seeking a political fix to address his poor performance in the opinion polls.