18 March 2013

Australian Chamber of Commerce criticises 457 visa crackdown

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The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has criticised the government's crackdown on the 457 visa program, claiming it is damaging the country's reputation.

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The ACCI's chief executive has said the portrayal of the 457 visa program has been 'completely unfair'.

Australian Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor announced last month that tightened restrictions would be applied to the 457 visa program in order to crackdown on abuse within the scheme.

Critics of the scheme claim that unscrupulous employers use the visa to bring in foreign workers at lower wages than Australian workers. The scheme's current rules require an employer to prove that local labour is not available but Mr O'Connor said employers were bringing in foreign workers on high wages in skilled positions to comply with the rules before demoting them upon arrival.

The minister's announcement quickly sparked an ongoing row that has involved everyone involved in Australian politics from the prime minister down. Julia Gillard has backed her minister repeatedly in the row despite claims from critics that the tougher stance has been taken with one eye on the federal elections later this year.

ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson told ABC news the way the crackdown is threatening Australia's reputation in Asia - a crucial partner - in particular that news coverage in Singapore was highlighting the link between the changes to the visa stream and the attempted comeback of controversial politician Pauline Hanson.

Mr Anderson said the flow of foreign workers into Australia is not one-way traffic and the visa changes could have a negative impact on those who had left the country:

"We have many thousands of Australian workers in Asian countries living in Asian cities where they want to have the full opportunity and confidence of local communities to go about doing their work in the construction industry, the legal industry, the professional services industries," he said.

"And if we are going to describe skilled workers from Asia working in Australia as somehow people that need to be at the bottom of the queue then Australians working in Asia, they don't want to be stigmatized as somehow second rate or foreigners that need to be put down the queue."

Mr Anderson said that while there is abuse of the 457 visa, it is not near as rife as it is being made out and the tone of the debate is misinforming the public.

"There is some evidence that a handful of businesses have been abusing the rules...and those businesses need to be called to account and the regulatory authorities need to take action.

"But what's completely unfair is for the public to get the impression this scheme either doesn't have rules or has rules that are out of control or that people who are working in jobs under this scheme are doing so at the expense of Australians or lowering the wages of Australians."


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