Australia to introduce stricter rules on working visas

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Malcolm Turnbull says the changes will put Australians firstImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Malcolm Turnbull says the changes will put Australians first

Australia will introduce stricter visa requirements for skilled workers from overseas, the government said.

The 457 visa programme is used mainly to hire foreign workers in the restaurant, IT and medical industries - the majority came from India, the UK and China.

But PM Malcolm Turnbull said it would be abolished to prioritise the recruitment of Australian nationals.

Critics of 457 said Australian workers lost out to foreign counterparts.

In its place, two new temporary visas will carry additional requirements and draw from a smaller list of eligible professions.

"The new system will be manifestly, rigorously, resolutely conducted in the national interest," Mr Turnbull said on Tuesday.

What was the 457 visa?

A four-year business visa which allowed people to live in Australia with their immediate family.

It was designed to fill gaps in skilled labour but it had been criticised as being too accessible.

In 2016, the most 457s were granted to cooks, developers, programmers and medical workers

According to government statistics, 95,758 people were living in Australia on 457 visas last year, with the highest proportion coming from India (24.6%), the UK (19.5%) and China (5.8%).

What are the changes?

Mr Turnbull said the current four-year 457 system will be replaced by visas lasting two or four years.

For the shorter visa, more than 200 jobs will be removed from an existing list of about 650 eligible professions.

The list for the longer visa will be even more strict, said Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

The changes will also require applicants to be more proficient in English, undergo a criminal check, and be subject to labour market testing.

Current 457 visa holders will not be affected by the changes, Mr Turnbull said.

'I'm absolutely devastated'

Image source, Getty Images

James Veale, manager at a high-tech company: "I think Mr Turnbull needs to look at the taxi-driving students studying home economics and aged care first before he singles out the 100,000 457 visa applicants who are creating real opportunities and income for Australia.

"Many of these students, after becoming citizens, remain as taxi drivers, not the skilled higher-paying professions that their student visas promised."

Benjamin Williams was about to be sponsored for a 457 visa: "I'm absolutely devastated and don't know what to do or where to go from here. How can the government make such massive changes in one afternoon?"

Steven Bouglas applied for a 457 visa five weeks ago for a job that is being removed from the eligible list: "Not only does that mean I will be jobless... I will now have to leave my girlfriend who I have been seeing for six months as I will no longer be eligible to stay here. I find it a complete joke."

Will it have an impact on migration?

Yes, according to Mr Dutton. He described the possibility of eventual citizenship as a "significant part of the attraction" of the 457 visa.

"The existing 457 visa program is conducted for a period of four years, but essentially it is open-ended, and it results, in many cases, in a migration outcome," he said.

"What we propose is that under the temporary skills shortage visa short-term stream there will be a two-year visa... but there won't be permanent residency outcomes at the end of that."

The new four-year visa will also result in fewer permanent residents because of the eligibility changes, he said.

It comes after Australian said last month that it would largely end granting visas to foreign workers in the fast food industry.