Australia is to abandon a visa program for skilled foreign workers and replace it with a stricter scheme. The aim is to give Australian workers priority for jobs.
The new visa will be limited to a two-year period and a second four-year visa will require a higher standard of English language. It will not lead to permanent residency. The new program also reduces the number of skills that qualify. Candidates will have to undergo a full police check.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said "We’re bringing the 457 visa class to an end." He added: “It’s lost its credibility.”
In a Facebook announcement Turnbull said: "Our reforms will have a simple focus: Australian jobs and Australian values."
The 457 visa was introduced in the 1990s to encourage entry of business professionals and highly skilled migrants but over time a wider range of workers was included. Anyone now in Australia on a 457 visa will not be affected by the new arrangements. It is currently used by about 95,000 workers.
"We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains: Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs," Turnbull said in a Facebook video announcing the change. "We'll no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians."
Unemployment in Australia has risen to 5.9 percent of the workforce and underemployment remains high.
Critics say employers have abused the visa to bring in foreign workers who are willing to accept lower wages than Australians. They also argue the visa program has discouraged businesses from training Australians and developing local expertise.
The prime minister's office said in a statement the new regulations include an obligation for employers sponsoring foreign skilled workers to provide training to Australians in high-need and skilled occupations.
"These changes will give Australian job seekers more opportunity to find work while finding the right balance so businesses can prosper by acquiring the expertise they need," Turnbull said in a statement.
The right-wing, anti-immigration One Nation party has been a vocal opponent of the 457 visa. One Nation party leader Pauline Hanson took credit for Turnbull's decision on Twitter. "The government will deny their tough talk on immigration and plan to ban 457 visas is because of One Nation but we all know the truth!" she wrote.
Labor leader Bill Shorten tweeted "the only job Malcolm Turnbull cares about saving is his own."
cw/jm (AP, Reuters)