Australia increases skilled migrant and working holiday visas

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Australia has announced an expansion of its skilled migration program by 6,000 places to 108,500 for the 2007-08 year in a response to ongoing labor shortages.

Australia's General Skilled Migration and Employer Sponsored visa programs allow skilled professionals and tradesmen to immigrate to the country under a variety of visas. Some require sponsorship by an employer or state/territory government, while others allow a migrant to come to Australia and look for work without a specific job offer.

"Employer-sponsored visas are the highest priority because they put a migrant worker directly into a skilled job," said Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans.

Australia will also expand its Working Holiday agreements with other countries to assist the tourism and construction industries. Working Holiday visas allow young people on extended holidays in Australia to take up temporary employment in certain sectors.

People in Australia on Working Holiday visas who are employed in the construction sector will also get a bonus. Working Holiday makers who have worked for at least three months in the construction industry in regional areas will have an option to extend their stay by one year. This adds to similar rules that currently exist for primary industry such as agriculture, forestry, fishing and mining industries.

"The tourism and primary industry sectors in particular will benefit as the pool of young people coming to Australia on working holidays continues to grow," Evans said.

According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the number of people in Australia on Working Holiday visas has grown from 85,200 in 2001-02 to 126,600 in 2006-07.

The number of people who have extended their Working Holiday visas has almost tripled from 2690 in 2005-06 to 7,990 in 2006-07. This number is expected to increase by 51 percent to more than 10,000 during the current financial year.

"It is estimated that extending this working holiday visa concession to work in the construction industry in regional Australia could attract a further 5000 workers to that industry alone," Evans said.

The announcements are part of a package of measures designed to alleviate the nation's skills and labor shortages. Evans said the measures have the potential to provide thousands of extra workers for Australian employers and could help stave off infationary pressures.