• Peter Dutton has been urged to bring a pregnant refugee on Nauru to Australia for medical treatment. (AAP)
Peter Dutton claims he has stopped granting 457 visas in areas of high youth unemployment. But he hasn't.
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22 Mar - 6:16 AM  UPDATED 22 Mar - 12:55 PM

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has granted thousands of 457 visas in regions of high youth unemployment, despite claiming he has stopped the practice.

Earlier this month, Mr Dutton said: "It's unimaginable that in areas where we might have 14, 15 per cent for example unemployment rate for young people, that we're allowing companies to bring foreign workers in.

"I've stopped that, and there are other aspects of Labor's 457 program that I'm working on tidying up at the moment as well."

But these six maps show the areas of high youth unemployment with regions of large numbers of 457 visa grants since Mr Dutton became Immigration Minister at the end of 2014. 

The maps highlight data provided by the Department of Employment based on figures in the year to January 2017, with youth unemployment defined as those aged 15 to 24.

A spokesperson for Minister Dutton said there had been some growth in 457 holders working in north-west and south-east Melbourne, but noted: "the numbers are small and the growth has been overwhelmingly in high-skilled roles in industries such as health care, manufacturing and the services sector – not in entry level roles such as the fast food sector.

"It’s worth noting also that these two regions are growth areas of outer Melbourne (in both economic and population terms), where demand for skilled labour is high."

The spokesperson also said within the six regions identified by SBS News the number of 457 visa holders has declined in Cairns, northern Adelaide and Townsville, and is at a consistent level in south-west Perth. 

The Immigration Minister said last year that he would be reducing the list of eligible occupations in the 457 visa program. He reaffirmed this in early March, saying he was still working on changes.

But the 457 program has little impact on entry-level jobs, according to two prominent academics.

Senior Lecturer of Law at the University of Adelaide, Dr Joanna Howe said young Australians aren't competing with 457 visa holders for work opportunities.

"It’s rather disingenuous to talk about 457 visa holders stealing the jobs from the young unemployed when it’s really other visa categories where we have expansive work rights in terms of international students, or unlimited work rights in terms of working holiday-makers," she said.

The overwhelming majority of 457 visas - close to 99 per cent - are granted for jobs that require at least Certificate III qualifications and two years of on-the-job training.

Henry Sherrell, from the Development Policy Centre at Australian National University, said there was an argument that employers are less likely to invest in training young workers if 457 visas are available, but he described it as "tenuous" based on the low proportion of the labour market represented by temporary foreign workers.

He said the 457 program was reacting as it was designed, shrinking as the labour market tightens.

"It's coming down slowly, not because of anything the government is doing," he said.

"It's because employers are seeing slightly less demand for it than during the mining boom and in better economic times."

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Minister Dutton's office said on Tuesday that the government has reduced the country's reliance on foreign workers at the same time as it has grown opportunities for local workers.

"Overall, since coming to government, the 457 program has declined under the Coalition by more than 13,000. Over the same time the labour force has grown by more than 500,000 positions," a spokesperson said.

Mr Dutton has already made changes to the 457 framework this year, cancelling the fast food industry labour agreement.

The arrangement had streamlined the process for companies such as McDonald's and Hungry Jack's to bring in around 500 foreign workers over the past four years.

Labour agreements provide the only avenue for businesses in Australia to import semi-skilled foreign workers. Eight other industry labour agreements are still in place.

A Senate committee last year recommended a list of labour agreements in force be published.

When SBS News asked why labour agreements were being kept secret, the Immigration Minister said that he was "working through Labor’s mess around the 457 program".

Note on maps: Youth unemployment areas are SA4s. 457 grant regions are statistical subdivisions.

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