17 March 2005

Speculation on new categories of immigrants and visas for Australia

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The Australian Federal Government is looking at overhauling its much criticised immigration and detention system in an effort to solve the pressing skills shortage.

The Cabinet met on Monday to discuss the proposed shake-up. Sources said the meeting included plans to increase skilled migration and overall immigration numbers for 2005-06 but no final decisions were made.

The increase in skilled migration is expected to be around 20,000 - the largest increase in 20 years.

The Australian Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, was asked to come back to cabinet with a more refined system for ensuring Australia gets the skilled migrants it needs. This could include creating new categories of immigrants.

Changes in the system could result in a softening of the system and have asylum seekers filling the gaps in the skilled and unskilled workforce that are threatening to stifle economic growth. Options include relaxing the rules governing temporary protection visas. The issue of whether to create a new "guest worker" category to fill short-term gaps has also been raised.

Senator Vanstone is understood to favour such a plan, which could help unemployed people from East Timor.

However, sources said the scheme was unlikely to be approved by cabinet because the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Treasurer, Peter Costello, were against it.

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