The Prime Minister’s crackdown on skilled worker visas, known as 457 visas, is misguided.
A tightening up of the visas was first announced by Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor last month when he promised the government would target “rorts” and “abuses” in the visas.
Now Prime Minister Julia Gillard has increased the rhetoric around these visas saying “we inherited from the previous government a 457 temporary foreign-worker visa program that was totally out of control”.
The Coalition has jumped on board and accused Gillard of preferring migrants who arrive “illegally on boats and go on to welfare” to skilled workers who arrive the “right way”, pay jobs and get taxes.
The whole issue seems to have created the worst sort of xenophobic and racist debate and it’s a debate that didn’t need to have happened.
There’s no evidence of any problems with the 457 visa system, which is relied on by the hospitality, mining, IT and construction industries to make up occasional shortfalls in workers.
There are currently only 83,840 workers in Australia under the visa scheme, which makes up about 0.7% of the workforce.
While a record number of 125,000 of these visas were granted in the last financial year, all were subject to a strict series of checks and balances.
There are various conditions attached to the 457 visas, including the need for local labour market testing and for market wages to be paid.
Raising 457 visas as an issue is just blatant electioneering, when calling an early election was supposed to allow government and the Coalition to focus on actual policies.
Wishful thinking indeed.
Businesses face enough challenges as it is without taking away their ability to access qualified and productive workers from overseas when local workers are in short supply.
The message here is that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.