Australian government criticised for misleading immigration figures

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The Australian immigration minister has released figures which show that there were 12% more Temporary Work (Skilled) (Subclass 457) visas granted in February 2013 than in the same month in 2012.

Mr O'Connor said that this sharp rise justified the plans of the Australian government to reform the 457 visa system to prevent abuse of the system or 'rorting' as it is known in Australia. Critics say that most 457 visa applications are not fraudulent and that the visas are issued to foreign workers who are filling genuine gaps in the Australian labour market. They also say that the February figures have been taken out of context and are misleading because the number of 457 visas granted has actually been falling since August 2012.

In March, Mr O'Connor said 'Rogue employers are deliberately employing people from overseas without giving a local a chance' and called for a reform of the 457 visa system. On 3rd April, Mr O'Connor said 'The 457 increase continues…which…underlines the need to bring about the reforms so that the 457 visa is used for the purposes it was constructed – which, of course, is to fill temporary shortages'.

Number of 457 visas was dropping

But figures from DIAC, the Australian government's Department for Immigration and Citizenship show that the number of 457 visas has actually been dropping since last August. They show that the February figure was an anomaly in a generally downward trend.

Australian industry body the Australian Industry Group (AIG) said that the figure does not show that there has been abuse of the system but, instead, shows that the 457 visas system is working. Innes Wilcox of the AIG said 'These latest figures, to us, just demonstrate that this is a system that is working, that is flexible…It (the figure) does move around from month to month and just to pick out one month is slightly misleading. When you have unions themselves using 457 visas to fill skill gaps that makes you realise that we do have a low unemployment rate in Australia. We do have skills shortages in quite specific areas and in quite specific regions'.

Australian employers can only employ a worker with a 457 visa if they are going to perform an occupation which is on the Australian Consolidated Shortage Occupations List, a list of occupations for which, the Australian government says, there is a shortage of trained Australians.

Though Australian unions have been leading calls for a clampdown on rorting of the 457 system, one union has had to admit that it has brought in workers on 457 visas itself. The Transport Workers Union employed three 457 workers as officials. TWU secretary Tony Sheldon told the Australian press on April 3rd 2013 that the union had been unable to find anyone who was able to fill the roles in Australia.

Gillard is 'demonising foreigners' – Abbott

The Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott has complained that Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Labor government are attempting to drum up support for the forthcoming election in September 2013 by 'demonising foreigners'. Ms Gillard has said that her party will introduce legislation to reform the 457 visa system and 'put Aussie workers first'.

The Australian opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said that the extra visas issued in February were issued because they were required. He said '457 approvals are a function of demand. It's a demand driven program and the minister seems to completely not understand this'.

Meanwhile in South Australia the state government revealed that of the 1,360 workers in the state on 457 visas, 20% work in the public sector, 93% of them in health services. South Australia's Manufacturing and Innovation Minister Tom Kenyon said 'it's resident medical officers, registrars, nurses and medical practitioners in general. They're skills we may not have to hand immediately and we need'.

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