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Friday, March 22, 2013

Julia Gillard backs foreign temporary work visas 'crackdown'

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard today backed a recent crackdown on alleged abuse of foreign temporary work visas, saying that the changes in visa scheme would get the "out of control" system back on track.

Under the 457 visa scheme, Australian employers can sponsor qualified overseas workers to the fill nominated positions for up to four-years, if the vacancy cannot be filled locally.

When asked about the government's recent crackdown on alleged abuse of foreign temporary work visas, including reducing the number of applications that can be made under the scheme and requiring businesses to demonstrate a genuine skill shortage in their area of operations, Gillard said Australian workers should come first.

"We inherited from the previous government a 457 temporary foreign worker visa programme that was totally out of control, and every step of the way we have been putting in place new conditions to crack down on the rorts," Gillard said in Eastern Creek in Sydney.

"We have done that in the past and we will continue to crack down as necessary," Gillard said.

"I understand there can be legitimate skill shortages where businesses need to source labour from overseas, but I also understand that there are too many times when people have got the skills to get the job and they don't get the job," she said.

"In those circumstances I want to make sure that Australian workers are coming first," she added.

Recently, the federal government announced cracking down on overseas workers by tightening skilled worker 457 visa programme.

It was argued by the government that dubious applications for overseas worker visas were approved as rules prevented officials from investigating their suspicions.

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor said that the scheme was misused by unscrupulous employers and predicted that it could stop thousands of foreign workers taking locals' jobs.

The changes to the 457 visa included, extra investigation powers for inspectors to get information from bosses they suspect of being dodgy and a new test to prove jobs were for "genuine" skills shortages because some employers were creating positions that were really "unskilled and possibly not even a real job". The changes in the visa also included closing loopholes that allow foreign workers to be paid less than an Australian citizen by increasing from USD 180,000 to USD 250,000 the threshold at which they must pay "market rates", stopping employers creating their own market to manipulate pay rates and raising requirements for foreign workers to speak English.

The changes further included restricting foreign workers being on-hire to a different employer in regions where there are no skill shortages and checking that employers offer training for locals to fill skills shortages before they seek foreigners.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association said the prospect of jeopardising the resources industry's contribution to the nation due to a few isolated incidents was "completely absurd".

A business can sponsor a worker for a 457 visa if they cannot find an appropriately skilled Australian citizen or permanent resident. By December, there were about 84,000 people on such visas in Australia.

O'Connor has flagged plans to tighten the system, including restricting labour hire arrangements and ensuring the Department of Immigration and Citizenship can crack down on rorts by ensuring that employers provide the information necessary during the application process.

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