20 February 2006

Australian visas continue to cause controversy

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Australia’s subclass 457 business visas continue to cause controversy as labour unions and members of the IT sector criticise the granting of visas to companies employing foreign, rather than Australian, labour.

Chinese welders, bakers from Vietnam, Croatian painters, Indian computer programmers and even Turkish jockeys are among those being granted temporary visas.

More than 30,000 subclass 457 business visas were issued last year -- up from about 19,500 in 2001-02. It is believed up to 37,000 may be approved this year.

The 457 category allows employers to sponsor skilled workers from abroad for a set time. The visa does not lead to settlement or permanent residency.

The Australian Government continues to cite Australia’s dire skill shortage as an explanation for the increasing number of visas being granted every year under the 457 scheme.

Dozens of careers are in demand in Australia, including accountants, mining engineers, bricklayers, cooks, hairdressers, panel beaters and welders.

Under the 457 visa, employers are not required to have sponsored workers' qualifications officially assessed. In addition, employers are not required to check if locals are available for the jobs.

The Immigration Department said it's in the economy's best interest for companies to get skilled workers quickly.

Companies desperate for skilled workers say they are employing overseas staff as a fallback when they cannot source talent locally.

Australian-based Indian computer firms are under fire for using the 457 to import Indian nationals who were employed to undercut Australian companies seeking contracts.

However, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said employers using the 457 system had to meet strict requirements. She said all employers have to abide by Australian awards and conditions and have a satisfactory record of compliance with immigration laws.

Senator Vanstone denied union claims firms were importing unskilled workers under the 457 scheme and paying them below award wages.

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