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Call for Australian Senate Inquiry Into Skilled Migration Visa System

Thursday, 05 February 2015

Australian trade unions are calling for a Senate Inquiry into the skilled migration visa system in response to proposals to revamp the programme.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has been considering relaxing entry requirements for overseas workers, including the introduction of a new short term visa class for specialised workers to stay in Australia for up to a year.

Under this change, overseas workers would not need to apply for a 457 work visa, which imposes entry requirements including English language tests and forces employers to prove they have looked for local workers before seeking overseas labour.

There were 1.112 million temporary visa holders in Australia as of September 2014, a 2.6% increase

However, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the review of the skilled migration system has ignored the impact the growing number of foreign workers on temporary visas is having on Australia’s job market and unemployment, particularly for young people.

 In a submission to the DIBP the ACTU points out that the number of temporary visas holders has increased significantly. It says that there were 1.112 million temporary visa holders in Australia as of September 2014, an increase of over 28,000 or 2.6% in just one year, and most had work rights. ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said the review has failed to consider the impact the growing number of temporary visas holders is having on unemployment.

‘Unemployment is at 6.1% and youth unemployment at 13.1%, yet the review has narrowly focused on creating new visa types, such as the proposed new short term mobility visa that reduce protections and safeguards for Australian and overseas workers, and increase even further the size of the temporary visa workforce in Australia,’ he said.

‘The paper fails to explain how deregulating work visas will benefit the large numbers of Australian workers without jobs, the thousands of young Australians unable to secure a trade apprenticeship, and the thousands of young Australian university graduates coming on to a depressed graduate job market over the next few years,’ he added.

He also pointed out that when the rules were tougher when labour market testing was introduced in 2013 the number of 457 visa nominations fell by 50% in nursing and 46% in engineering. He believes that Australians want a plan for economic growth that will create good jobs with decent wages and strong investment in skills and training, not a plan to make it easier for companies to bypass Australian workers, university graduates and apprentices.

‘The review of Australia’s skilled migration system needs to focus on strengthening requirements for employers to advertise jobs locally before recruiting workers from overseas. This proposal may align with the wish list of certain employers, but it is not in the interest of Australian or overseas workers,’ the ACTU submission states.

Oliver said the department has failed to explain ‘how deregulating work visas will benefit the large number of Australian workers without jobs’, including those unable to secure apprenticeships and university graduates facing a depressed job market.

Assistant Immigration and Border Protection Minister, Michaelia Cash, said the skilled migration programme was aimed at plugging skill shortages, and she strongly disputed union claims that Australian jobs were under threat from overseas labour. She said any changes would complement rather than replace the existing workforce.

‘An effectively managed temporary labour migration programme will not threaten Australian jobs. Rather, it will secure the future of business and grow employment opportunities to enable businesses to employ more Australians,’ her spokesman said.

‘It is essential in restoring growth in the economy. It is essential in lifting our productivity. The ACTU should explain how they reconcile their ongoing objections to foreign workers with the fact that some of their own trade unions continue to employ subclass 457 visa holders in their offices,’ the spokesman added.

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