The federal government is cracking down on the 457 visa scheme for temporary overseas workers, saying it has evidence the program is being used to discriminate against Australians.
Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor says the 457 visas will be tightened to ensure they are only used to address genuine skills shortages, and that local workers are getting a "fair go".
Under the changes, employers will be required to demonstrate they are nominating a position where there is a genuine shortage of workers, while English language requirements for some jobs will also be raised.
Mr O'Connor said compliance and enforcement powers would also be boosted to stop employers who are rorting the system.
"It has become clear ... that the growth in the 457 program is out of step with those skills shortages, and the government has evidence that some employers - and I emphasise that word, some - are using 457 visas to discriminate against locals," Mr O'Connor said in a statement.
"We do not want to punish those employers who have genuine skill shortages and who are using 457 visas in the way that the system is intended.
"But my message to those employers who are either flouting the rules or deliberately overlooking local employees is that the government will not accept these practices."
The federal government has dismissed claims that the announced changes are giving way to union demands.
"The good employees get what they need, but the rogue employers do not get to exploit overseas workers, domestic workers," Mr O'Connor said.
But the announcement has been criticised by National Party Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce, who says the tightening of the 457 visa scheme would cause great damage to regional economies.
''If there are companies rorting the system, then the government already has the power to exclude them from the scheme. It doesn't need to tighten the scheme as a whole,'' Senator Joyce told the SMH.
Senator Joyce said industries like abattoirs could be forced to close factories if they can't fill jobs unwanted by Australian workers with overseas workers.