Australian politician calls for more temporary migration

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An Australian MP has called for an increase in the number of temporary migration permits issued to skilled migrants. Andrew Leigh, a member of the ruling Labor Party said there was a shortage of Australians with the expertise to fill job vacancies created by the country's natural resources boom.

Writing in The Brisbane Times, Mr Leigh said that the resources boom had created great stresses in the Australian economy. There were massive projects such as Anglo American's mining project at Moranbah, Queensland and the Gorgon natural gas project sited off the coast of Western Australia which would cost $43bn to develop. The size of these projects had led to a shortage of Australians with the necessary skills to fill the available positions. The problem facing the country was how to ensure that there were sufficient skilled workers to complete projects on time without displacing the local work force.

Mr Leigh's article, published on August 8th, said that the Australian government could solve this crisis by issuing more temporary work visas to applicants with the required skills. The visas, known as 457 visas, allow migrants to stay and work in the country for up to four years. Mr Leigh said that the granting of these visas could be linked to a commitment to train local people under the Enterprise Migration Agreements scheme. This, he said, would ensure that local people benefitted from the boom even though some jobs went to migrants. It would also ensure that major projects were completed on time. He said that it was not a question of 'foreigners versus locals'. 'If a resource project cannot get off the ground without 1700 temporary overseas workers, then the jobs of the 6,000 Australians who will work on that project depend on overseas migration' he said.

He added that there would also be significant benefits to developing nations if their nationals worked in Australia on resources projects using 457 visas. He cited the research of Harvard economist Dani Rodrick who claims that guest-worker programmes are as important for helping people in low income countries as trade and aid, to say nothing of the transfer of vital skills.

Mr Leigh insisted that the benefits of the resources boom must be spread to the next generation of Australians. There would be plenty of opportunities for Australians to train in the mining industry as Australia moved from a high cost to a high volume mining economy. He said that the impact of the resources boom on housing, employment, taxation and migration were inescapable. He said that the correct policy decisions now would ensure that the benefits of the boom were spread to every corner of Australia.

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