'Australian workers must have priority': Turnbull scraps 457 visa program

The federal government says it will abolish the 457 visa program that allows skilled foreigners to work in Australia.

File image (AAP)

File image (AAP) Source: AAP

Malcolm Turnbull has announced he is abolishing the 457 visa program for skilled migrants.

The prime minister said Australia was a successful multicultural "immigration nation" but it was time to put Australians first.

"The fact remains Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs," he said in a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday.

"We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians."

Mr Turnbull said it remained critical to give businesses access to skilled staff.

The 457 visa will be replaced initially by a new temporary two-year visa specifically designed to recruit the "best and the brightest in the national interest", Mr Turnbull said.

"The fact remains Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs."

Under the government's plan the list of 650 occupation classifications that qualify for a temporary visa will be reduced by 200.

The new visas will require applicants to have previous work experience.

A second four-year visa will require a higher standard of English language skills as well as a proper criminal check.

There were 95,758 foreign workers on 457 visas as of September 2016, according to the Department of Immigration.

The majority of visa holders are from India (26.6 per cent), followed by the United Kingdom (16.9 percent) and China (6.1 per cent).

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the new two-year visa would not allow permanent residency, but anyone now in Australia on a 457 visa will not be affected by the new arrangements.

His office confirmed with SBS News the new program will be “phased in” starting on Wednesday and fully operational by March 2018.

Watch: Turnbull announces changes to 457 visa scheme

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten slammed the plan via Twitter.

"Make no mistake, the only job Malcolm Turnbull cares about saving is his own," he wrote.

Shadow Minister for Employment Services Ed Husic said the announcement was light on detail.

“The last time the Coalition was in government they got rid of all Labor market testing around these visas.”

Watch: Ed Husic on 457s

Labor is linking the announcement to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s five-point plan announced on Monday, which included a push to ban immigration, albeit temporarily.

“You’ve got Malcolm Turnbull releasing a one-point plan to save one job, and one job only, his own,” Mr Husic said.

Crossbench Senators Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson have backed the government’s decision to trim the temporary foreign worker scheme.

However both have used the announcement to increase pressure on state and federal governments over skills training.

Senator Xenophon said the replacement of the 457 scheme was a “welcome change” in seeking a "long term solution which means more Australians being trained”.

"It will now force state and federal governments to tackle skills shortages because governments have become lazy in the way that 457 visas have allowed governments to ignore skills shortages by just having 457 workers,” he told SBS News.

"This gives us an opportunity to revamp and revitalise our apprenticeships and skills training in this country which I think has been neglected for too long, in part because of the reliance on 457 visa holder,” Senator Xenophon said.

Senator Hanson claimed credit for prompting the policy change by the government.

She also used the announcement to call for the government to “ensure Australia has the skilled labour it needs in the future”.

The new system would be "manifestly, rigorously, resolutely" conducted in the national interest to put Australian jobs first, Mr Turnbull said.

Watch: Dutton explains the 457 visa replacement

What will replace the 457 scheme?

* Australia's 457 temporary foreign worker scheme will be scrapped and replaced by two new visa streams;

* The 95,000 people already in Australia on 457 visas will not be affected;

* The 457 scheme will be replaced by two new temporary skilled worker visas - a short and medium term program;

* The short-term, two-year visa will have an optional two-year extension available before a visa-holder must leave the country to apply again;

* The short-term visa program will offer no prospect of permanent residency;

* The number of occupations targeted under the scheme will be reduced by 200 compared to roughly 650 classifications included in the 457 visa program;

* A medium-term, four-year visa program will target higher skilled workers from 183 classifications;

* These workers will be able to apply for permanent residency;

* The four-year visas will require a higher standard of English language skills;

* All skilled worker visa applicants will need to pass criminal checks;

* Two years work experience will be required for both visas (which is not the case at the moment);

* In the majority of cases, mandatory labour market testing will be required; and

* Applications fees of $1150 for two-year visa and $2400 for four-year visas will apply.

Watch: Visas by the numbers

5 min read
Published 18 April 2017 at 2:32pm
Source: AAP,SBS