03 April 2012

Australia visa for American workers proposal stirs debate

A plan announced yesterday to fast track Australia visa applications from American workers to ensure the booming Australian mining and construction industries do not suffer from predicted labour shortages has caused some dissent from unions representing Australian workers.

Australia visa

The ACTU feels changes to the Australia visa processing are immature and the Australian workforce should be considered first.

The plan, announced yesterday by the immigration and skills ministers, Chris Bowen and Chris Evans, as well as the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, outlined plans to allow American workers who apply for an Australia visa to have their skills assessed in the US before travelling to Australia.

The proposal differs from existing Australian immigration rules as skilled workers currently have to travel to Australia, have their skills assessed and then await the outcome of the test, which can often take months, before they are permitted to enter employment.

This represents something of a gamble to many foreign workers, particularly American workers, who can be put off by the distance to travel and the uncertainty of a lengthy skills assessment.

The continuing boom of several industries has meant that many analysts have predicted a skills shortage could halt the industries' progress in 2014-15 so the Australian government is taking steps to ensure that the labour market will cope with increased demand by capitalising on the US' relatively high rate of unemployment.

As well as allowing skills to be assessed on shore, Mr Bowen announced that Australia will hold its first skills expo in the US in Houston, Texas in May to attract workers.

While the scheme has been welcomed by most industry bodies, both Australian and American, some have expressed their concern that Australian workers could, and should, be used to address the labour gap.

President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Ged Kearney, declared the move premature and claimed there was no independent evidence that the country would not cope with increased demand.

Ms Kearney said the initiative should include a national jobs board with a mandate to ensure that local workers were prioritised over foreign workers and would not simply become marginalised by the promise of potentially cheaper, international workers.

Senator Evans said the priority would always be to prioritise training of Australian workers, but "quite frankly, you wouldn't want to train for the peak because that will just leave you with people who will be unable to find work when the peak subsides."

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian Embassy.

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