On 08 May 2007, Australia's Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews announced an additional 5,000 places to the Skilled Migration Stream, bringing the total 2007-08 quota to 102,500 places. The family stream remained the same at 50,000 from last year, bringing to total Migration Programme quota to 152,800.
Australia's Skilled Migration program allows foreign workers to enter Australia under various visa categories. Those with skills in labor shortage sectors who have the required criteria can live and work in Australia without a sponsor. Others can come to work in Australia by being sponsored by an employer.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship issued more 457 visas for IT professionals in the nine months to 31 March 2007 than during the entire previous financial year. 4,290 457 visas were granted to IT firms in that 9-month period, compared with 4,190 for the entire 12 months of the previous year.
If the department continues to approve applications for 457 visas at current rates, the number of IT professionals using the scheme will jump 35% this year. The surge in applications is so dramatic that the Australian Services Union (ASU), which represents IT professionals, has launched an investigation to ensure no abuse of the visa system is taking place.
They have received some complaints that workers are being paid the minimum wages possible. After some high profile stories last year about under-paying workers on the 457 visa scheme, everyone is watching the program carefully. The government and the businesses want it to remain healthy, so there is a strong cooperation of interests to monitor and investigate any potential improprieties.
The department said the 457 visa program had rules to protect working conditions for Australians.
A department spokeswoman said: "Foreign workers are not a cheaper option for employers, as employers must pay the minimum salary level, flights to and from Australia and medical insurance for workers. The salary for skilled IT workers on the 457 is about $56,700 compared to the entry level IT for Australians, which is much lower.
"As a sponsor company you have to show a very clear commitment to training the Australian employees in the company, and that's both in dollar figures and in formal training," she said.
Australia's family migration scheme allows Australian citizens and permanent residents to be reunited with foreigners who are immediate family.
Also in the books are increased requirements for those considering Australian citizenship. Applicants for citizenship will be required to take a test quizzing them on Australian traditions, values, and history. Also increased were English language proficiency requirements.
The changes were part of an AUS $359 million increase in funding for the 2007-08 budget.
"This year's migration program continues the Australian Government's focus of keeping the economy strong by keeping pace with the demand for skilled labor and ensuring we have a cohesive integrated community."
Probably related to the surge in Australian visa demand is the solid economic news being reported. Australia's economy grew by 2.8% in the final three months of 2006, boosted by household spending and a mining boom. The robust fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) was powered by solid growth in consumption as well as strong mining investment on the back of higher commodity prices.
Analysts had been expecting the economy to show more modest growth of 2%, following three interest rate rises in 2006. The numbers exceeded expectations since the country experiencing its worst drought in a century.
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