Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said the IT industry in Australia is overusing the 457 visa to recruit foreign IT workers where the jobs could otherwise be taken up by Australian citizens.
In a speech to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Community Summit in Canberra this morning, the prime minister said that the use of the visas to temporarily employ overseas workers was growing much faster than employment in Australia was growing — 20 percent year-on-year compared to 1 percent employment growth year-on-year.
The IT industry was the worst offender, Gillard said.
"Outside the resource states of Queensland and Western Australia, the single largest sector for temporary overseas work isn't mining — or even construction — it is information technology. One in twenty temporary overseas workers in Australia is doing IT work in New South Wales alone," she said.
"It is just not acceptable that information technology jobs, the quintessential jobs of the future, the very opportunities being created by the digital economy, precisely where the big picture is for our kids, should be such a big area of imported skills."
Gillard said that the IT industry brought in 5,800 temporary workers in just seven months, where there were just 4,500 Australian IT undergraduates in 2011.
"That in itself is evidence of a problem: the number of people coming here to fill short-term gaps should not be growing twenty times faster than employment overall," she said.
To scale back on this Gillard said the government would be making changes to the program, including requiring employers to demonstrate that they are not nominating positions where a genuine shortage doesn't exist, ramping up the English language requirement for a number of positions, raising the market salary cap exemption from AU$180,000 to AU$250,000 and stopping employers who routinely abuse the 457 system.
"Naturally we will work with business to make sure genuine skill shortages can be addressed, but we will not allow Australian workers to be denied the opportunity to fill Australian jobs," Gillard said.
"If there are local workers — Australians in insecure work, unemployed Australians, young Australians — who can do these jobs then they should get that chance."
There has been much debate in Australia over the last year as to whether there is an IT skills shortage in the country. Westpac CIO Clive Whincup blamed the shortage for its need to outsource some jobs, but the Commonwealth Bank's CIO Michael Harte disagreed. ZDNet's CIO Jury also overwhelmingly said that the IT skills shortage was overblown.
In November last year, research firm IDC found that while the Asia-Pacific region was being hit with a skills shortage, Australia wasn't suffering as badly as the rest of the region.