457 visa changes pass lower house

Proposed changes to Australia's skilled migration system have passed the lower house of parliament, as the IT industry urges the government to ease off their businesses.

With new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in the top job again, the House of Representatives today passed amendments to immigration law for the skilled foreign worker visa scheme that aim to crack down on industries, such as IT, that have been said to be misusing the scheme.

The legislation will require employers to demonstrate that they went to market in Australia for local workers before hiring overseas workers using 457 visas.

When announcing the changes, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard singled out the IT industry as one of the biggest abusers of the scheme, stating that the IT industry accounted for 5,800 workers brought into Australia in seven months, while in 2011, there were only 4,500 IT undergraduates.

It was reported earlier in the day that Rudd had pulled the legislation, but this afternoon, the lower house passed the legislation 73 votes to 72, with Labor picking up support from Independent MPs Tony Windsor, Bob Katter, Craig Thomson, and Andrew Wilkie and Greens MP Adam Bandt.

The legislation will still need to pass the Senate, and the Senate may ultimately sit on Friday in order to pass all the legislation that the government is seeking to pass prior to the election. Rudd has not indicated whether the September 14 election date has changed since taking over as prime minister this morning.

As he resumed the role of prime minister, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) CEO Suzanne Campbell said that the IT industry continues to support the 457 visa scheme.

"457 visas solve the immediate skills shortage issue local organisations are facing. The longer-term solution to this issue is systemic changes in ICT education and skills development. This will take time, and the industry must not be stalled in the meantime," she said.

Campbell said that Rudd should shift focus away from targeting the IT industry in Australia.

"The combination of excessive and at times heavy-handed regulation faced by the ICT industry in Australia, the costs associated with this, and the singling out of the ICT sector on visa issues, tax, and pricing must stop for confidence to be restored," Campbell said.

Campbell initially fronted the IT pricing inquiry representing IT giants, including Apple, Adobe, and Microsoft, but repeatedly throughout the hearing said she could not respond on behalf of those companies. The companies were ultimately compelled to appear before the inquiry themselves.

Campbell said today that the government needs to demonstrate its confidence in the IT sector.

"If Australia is to be the leading digital economy it aspires to be, government must demonstrate its confidence in the ICT sector taking that vision forward. This includes a focused commitment to the important role of the NBN, and continued effort in driving take-up and use by business and government."