SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will abolish a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replace it with a new programme requiring better English-language and job skills, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday.
Turnbull, struggling with poor voter approval ratings, rejected suggestions the visa policy change was in response to far-right wing political parties, such as One Nation, demanding more nationalistic policies.
But in a Facebook announcement Turnbull said: “Our reforms will have a simple focus: Australian jobs and Australian values.”
In a similar vein, U.S. President Donald Trump will sign an executive order on Tuesday directing changes to a temporary visa programme used to bring foreign workers to the United States to fill highly skilled jobs. The order is an attempt by Trump to carry out his “America First” election campaign pledges.
Turnbull said the visa change would attract better skilled workers and see Australians employed over cheap foreign workers brought in under the old 457 visa programme.
“We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains- Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs,” he said. “We’ll no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians.”
The 457 visa was introduced in the 1990s to expedite the entry of business professionals and highly skilled migrants but over time it was opened up to include a broad suite of workers.
The programme has become mired in controversy with allegations the visa was being misused by employers to import workers on the cheap, not to fill genuine skill shortages.
“We are bringing the 457 visa class to an end. It’s lost its credibility,” Turnbull said at a press conference in Canberra.
Anyone now in Australia on a 457 visa will not be affected by the new arrangements.
The 457 visa, now used by about 95,000 foreign workers, will be replaced by a new temporary visa and the list of occupations that qualify for a visa will be reduced from more than 200.
The new visa will be limited to a two-year period and a second four-year visa will require a higher standard of English language. From 1901 to around 1973, Australia restricted non-white immigration under a White Australia policy, which required an English language test.
The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), which represents more than 60,000 businesses, said the changes would improve the integrity of Australia’s visa programme.
“The temporary skilled visa programme should now be considered as settled without the need for further reviews and disruptive policy change,” said Ai Group Chief Executive Innes Willox.
Some experts said the government should focus on boosting education and training systems to address Australia’s skills needs.
The opposition was not impressed though. Labor leader Bill Shorten tweeted “the only job Malcolm Turnbull cares about saving is his own.”
Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Michael Perry and Neil Fullick