Australia to bring in stricter work visa rules

Malcolm Turnbull said the visa change would mean more Australians would be employed over what he described as cheap foreign workers (file). Photo: RNZ

Australia will abolish a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replace it with two visas with tougher English language and work skill requirements.

In making the announcement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected suggestions the change was in response to far-right wing political parties, such as One Nation, demanding more nationalistic policies.

But in a Facebook announcement Mr Turnbull said: “Our reforms will have a simple focus: Australian jobs and Australian values.”

Mr Turnbull said the visa change would attract workers with more advanced skills, and mean more Australians would be employed over what he described as 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 designed to fill Australia’s skill shortages and allowed holders to bring members of their family to Australia on so-called 457 secondary visas.

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But the 457 visa has been mired in controversy with allegations the programme was being misused by employers to import workers cheaply, not to fill genuine skill shortages.

“We are bringing the 457 visa class to an end. It’s lost its credibility,” Mr Turnbull said at a news conference in Canberra.

Anyone already in Australia on a 457 visa would not be affected by the new arrangements.

The 457 visa, used by about 95,000 foreign workers, would be replaced by a new temporary visa and the list of qualifying occupations would be reduced.

The new visa would be limited to a two-year period. Another new visa, for four years, would require a higher standard of English language skills.

From 1901 to around 1973, Australia restricted non-white immigration under a White Australia policy that required an English language test.

– Reuters / RNZ