29 May 2012

Business body begs for calm in Australia visa row

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The Business Council of Australia (BCA) has written to the government to urge them not to bow to union and political pressure in adding more red tape in the Australia visa arrangement which allows mining companies to import foreign workers.

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The Business Council of Australia has urged the government not to alter its Enterprise Migration Agreement further

The first Enterprise Migration Agreement (EMA) was granted to mining magnate and world's richest woman Gina Rinehart last week; Ms Rinehart was given permission to employ 1,700 foreign workers on an Australia visa to work on her AU$9.5 billion (£6 billion) Roy Hill mining project.

The EMA was granted by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yet, despite having supported the EMA since, Prime Minister Julia Gillard reportedly was not informed of the agreement until after it had been signed.

In an effort to placate the unions and politicians opposed to the EMA, many of whom are in Ms Gillard's Labor Party and claim Australians can fill the positions, the prime minister said she would be implementing an oversight committee to ensure Australians are considered before any new EMAs can be arranged.

However, BCA Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott urged the government not to change Australian immigration policy further, claiming the EMA is a longstanding arrangement first announced in the 2011 budget which already contains sufficient safeguards against undercutting Australian workers.

"This was a policy [the government] announced in the 2011 budget and we want them to stick to it," said Ms Westacott.

"And secondly, we want them to avoid the temptation to add lots of process to this, thereby adding red tape and effectively defeating the purpose of it."

The Australian economy is experiencing a period of rapid growth thanks to a booming mining industry which relies upon its natural resources, often located in remote parts of Western Australia.

As the mining industry expands, the demand for skilled labour continues to grow and while workers' unions argue that Australians can meet the demand, Ms Westacott argues that many Australians are unwilling to travel to remote areas and foreign workers will only be used to supplement the Australian workforce.

"Many Australians do not want to go these remote locations. We're talking about needing to top up the Australian labour force, particularly during these construction phases.

"Once these construction phases are ended the jobs fall back to Australians to operate these major projects, so we've got to remember that these projects will create jobs for Australians."

The government has faced substantial pressure from unions and politicians from both sides to limit the use of EMAs but Ms Westacott says criticism is sensationalised in order to gain momentum.

"It has become very emotional, and it's very disturbing to see the play on the word 'foreign' all the time, which obviously is intended to touch those emotional chords."

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

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