Malcolm Turnbull to abolish 457 immigration work visas

The Turnbull government has cracked down on foreign worker visas and adopted an “Australians first” approach to skilled migration, scrapping the controversial 457 visa program and announcing a much stricter replacement.

Two new temporary skills shortage visas will impose tougher English language tests and stricter labour market testing, and require at least two years of work experience and a mandatory police check.
457 visas: PM’s Australia-first rhetoric

The decision to abolish 457 temporary work visas is presented by Malcolm Turnbull as putting the interests of Australians first.

In an extraordinary piece of timing, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement came hours before US President Donald Trump prepared to unveil a “buy American, hire American” executive order that will crack down on guest worker visas and require more US goods to be purchased locally – putting in to practice the “America First” rhetoric of the presidential election.

Both the Turnbull and Trump policy decisions will appeal to the nationalist wings of their respective centre-right parties.

In Australia, the number of jobs eligible for the two-year and four-year visa streams has been cut dramatically, with 216 occupations – ranging from antique dealer to fisheries officer to shoe maker – axed from the old list of 651 professions eligible for a 457 visa.

But nurses and cooks, for example, who are commonly brought in on 457s, will remain eligible for a visa under the new scheme.

“We are putting jobs first, we are putting Australians first,” Mr Turnbull said. “We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains that Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs.

“Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs, so we are abolishing the 457 visa, the visa that brings temporary foreign workers into our country. We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”

In a later radio interview, Mr Turnbull said the 457 program had become a “rort” under Labor.

“Bill Shorten had people coming out here on 457s to flip burgers at McDonald’s,” he said. “This became a rort and it basically displaced a lot of Australians from entry-level jobs.”

Asked why the government had not axed the program earlier, Mr Turnbull said: “The important thing is we’re getting it done now.”

Labor leader Bill Shorten – who has vowed to “crack down on dodgy” 457 visas and who backed a tightening of the rules under the Gillard government, which was criticised by the Abbott opposition – suggested “the only job Malcolm Turnbull cares about saving is his own”.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson claimed credit for the changes, arguing “the government will deny their tough talk on immigration and plan to ban 457 visas is because of One Nation, but we all know the truth”.

Australian Conservatives senator Cory Bernardi also claimed credit for the populist pivot.

Business groups broadly welcomed the changes as a way to restore faith in the system, though accounting giant KPMG said “there is no evidence the current system is not working”.

The union movement, which has argued for years for reform of 457 to stamp out rorts, said the move was “more spin than substance”.

Mr Turnbull dismissed suggestions the changes amounted to little more than a rebranding exercise – and rejected Ms Hanson’s attempt to claim credit – arguing it was “a decision of my government … this has been a careful exercise in policy development”.

People currently on a 457 visa, which lasts for four years, will be exempt from the new regulations.

Application fees will rise from a flat $1060 to $1150 for the two-year visa and more than double to $2400 for the four-year visa.

Less than 1 per cent of Australia’s 12 million-strong workforce, or 95,758 people, held a primary 457 visa as of September 30, 2016.


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