Australia set to limit skilled foreigners

The Australian government says it wants to put "Australian workers first". There are currently about 95,000 people in Australia under the short-term work visa scheme, accompanied by about 76,000 family members.
The Australian government says it wants to put "Australian workers first". There are currently about 95,000 people in Australia under the short-term work visa scheme, accompanied by about 76,000 family members.PHOTO: REUTERS

Govt reviewing list of jobs covered by short-term work visa scheme

The Australian government is set to restrict the intake of skilled foreigners as part of an "Australia first" shift in the short-term work visa scheme.

As commentators warned of a worrying move towards post- Trump economic populism, the ruling coalition said it wanted to put "Australian workers first" and announced it was reviewing the number of job categories which give overseas workers a four-year stay under the 457 sponsored visa system.

According to a report on Monday by SBS News, more than 50 jobs currently on the list have been earmarked for possible removal, including lawyers, chefs, a range of engineers, accountants and medical specialists such as anaesthetists and cardiologists.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the current list of more than 600 jobs was "expansive" but added it would still be necessary to bring in foreign workers, particularly in regional areas where there may be shortages.

"We are having a look at it (the list) right now and I think it will be condensed," Mr Dutton told Sky News on Sunday.

The move follows heavy pressure by the Labor Party to reduce the number of foreign workers in the country. There are currently about 95,000 people in Australia on 457 visas, accompanied by about 76,000 family members.

The government also announced last week that foreign workers on 457 visas will now have just 60 days to reapply for their visa  if their job ends - down from 90 days.

"This change is about reducing competition from overseas workers for those Australians who are actively looking for work," Mr Dutton said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has urged the government in recent weeks to "buy Australian, build Australian, make in Australia and employ Australians".

  The campaign has been criticised as a populist response to the recent shift towards economic nationalism as seen in Britain's Brexit vote and the election of Mr Donald Trump as US president, as well as in the strong support in Australia for anti-migration senator Pauline Hanson.

Political commentator Troy Bramston said yesterday that Mr Shorten was "mimicking Trump's jingoistic and ethnic-nationalist 'America First' motto".

"Shorten has seized on foreign skilled workers on 457 visas to capitalise on fears about squeezed job markets and falling living standards," he wrote in The Australian.

"More than 70 per cent (of temporary workers) are actually highly educated professionals working in areas such as information technology, where there is a skill shortage."

Another commentator, Mr Terry Sweetman, wrote in Queensland's Sunday Mail newspaper that the push by the government and opposition for curbs on 457 visas was "nothing more than low-rent cashing-in on phobias about foreign workers (or foreigners) of any kind".

In addition to the temporary workers, Australia last year took in about 190,000 permanent immigrants.

An expert on migration law, Dr Joanna Howe of the University of Adelaide, has urged the government to use an independent agency to assess labour shortages.

"Our labour migration system is broken," she wrote on The Conversation website.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Australia set to limit skilled foreigners'. Print Edition | Subscribe