25 February 2013

Minister announces Australia 457 visa crackdown

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Recently appointed Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor has made one of his first pieces of business a crackdown on the 457 visa program after reports of widespread 'rorting' of the system have emerged.

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Minister O'Connor says the 457 visa program - which is intended for skilled workers - is being abused by unscrupulous employers.

Mr O'Connor, who succeeded Chris Bowen as Australian immigration minister earlier this month, said the Gillard government had proof the 457 visa program - which allows foreign citizens to temporarily live and work in skilled positions in Australia - was being used by unscrupulous employers to undercut local labour.

The minister said new legislation will be introduced to tighten the rules and ensure the visa program can only be used to address genuine skills shortages and Australian workers are assured a 'fair go'.

Mr O'Connor cited examples of companies 'dressing up' low skilled jobs as high skilled occupations in order to justify bringing in a foreign worker including a Melbourne IT firm employing 'administrators' who were actually security guards.

Dave Oliver, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said there was almost 70,000 fewer jobs available in the construction industry compared to the same time last year yet there had been an almost 40% increase in 457 visa grants.

"It doesn't make sense. Local jobs are disappearing and yet there is a significant increase nationwide of the amount of 457 visas that are being granted," said Mr Olive.

"We’ve seen this for too long as a lazy option for employers. It's just a matter of a tick-and-flick form where they can bring workers from overseas, as opposed to investing in their own workforce by employing apprentices and providing training for their workers."

Mr O'Connor said employers would still be able to make use of the 457 visa program in the future but he would enforce legislation that would require employers to firstly prove that there is a genuine shortage of workers.

"We have seen too many examples of abuse across the nation," said the minister.

"There are situations where Australian workers are being discriminated against because of the abuse of the program.

"Rogue employers are deliberately employing people from overseas without giving a local a chance."

The minister said a new test would be introduced to determine whether the skills shortage claimed in the application was genuine while testers would be given extra power to investigate these claims. The minister also said English language requirements would be increased.

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