Australian govt defends 457 visa criticism

Foreign IT workers were not the focus of a discussion paper that led to the Australian government criticising the 457 visa program.

The Australian government has recently been critical of what it calls overuse of the 457 visa program to recruit foreign workers into Australia, in particular IT workers, but the discussion paper that spawned the debate doesn't mention IT workers at all.

In March, Prime Minster Julia Gillard said the use of the visa to temporarily employ overseas workers was growing much faster than employment in Australia, with over 100,000 workers in Australia now on 457 visas. She said the IT industry was one of the bigger offenders in hiring 457 visa workers.

"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."

As a result, the government is planning on introducing legislative changes to the program in the upcoming sitting of parliament ahead of the federal election in September.

The proposal spawned from a confidential discussion paper prepared in December 2012 by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration on the integrity of the 457 visa program. The paper, which was released under Freedom of Information laws, states that it is time to evaluate the integrity of the program, and while it highlights 12 measures to improve the system, it does not implicate any one particular industry as abusing the system.

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor has said that it was not the only information the government was working from.

This paper is one of several important pieces of information that have been used to formulate the Gillard Government's ongoing reforms to the 457 program. It is not, however, the sole determinant of the government's decisions," he said.

O'Connor was also today forced to defend comments he had made earlier in the week, stating that 10 percent of people on 457 visas were rorting the system. He told ABC radio this morning that it was an estimate rather than a precise figure.

One of the measures that Gillard had highlighted as being an ongoing problem with the 457 visa program was employers discriminating in favour of 457 visa workers over local workers.

"Recent cases include examples of certain sponsors who have advised the department that they do not seek to recruit locally as it does not fit with their business model, or because it is too expensive to recruit domestically," the discussion paper read.

The proposed change was expected to have nil impact, except in rare instances where an employer might be sanctioned for favouring overseas workers.


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