Malcolm Turnbull took to Facebook today to announce the abolishment of one of Australia’s most important immigration visas. The 457-visa is a temporary work visa given to skilled foreign workers who arrive in the country to plug skills gaps in the Australian labor market.
Almost in tandem, a similar announcement about immigration reform came out of the United States. President Trump is due to sign an executive order on Tuesday that will recommend changes to temporary work visas for foreign workers in the U.S.
With announcements about job market reforms expected in the coming weeks, the Australian Prime Minister took an inward-facing tone that has become familiar in the current global political climate.
“Our reforms will have a simple focus: Australian jobs and Australian values.”
This is almost a mirror image of Trump’s slogans, notably his plea to businesses to “buy American and hire American.”
Australia’s New Visa Laws
According to the immigration reporter for Australia’s ABC News, the four-year 457-visa will be replaced by two new visas.
There will be a two-year visa that covers broader employment and a four-year visa that covers more specific skills. Both are likely to carry restrictions to ensure they are only used to plug skills shortages in the domestic labor force, as has been reiterated by government officials in Australia today.
New skilled worker the new system will involve two new temporary skills visas, a broader one for two years and more specialised one for four— Stephanie Anderson (@stephanieando) April 18, 2017
In Australia, ABC News has reported that this measure will affect around 95,000 people who are currently legally working in Australia with 457-visas, along with their families. This number is a reduction of 15,000 from the high-point of 457-visa immigration into Australia, seen under the previous Labor government.
Peter Dutton, the immigration minister, has said there will be a “grandfathering arrangement” for those workers already in the country on these visas. Such agreements exempt certain parties from the effects of legislation changes, though the lack of solid reassurances offered by the minister will bring little solace to those in Australia who may now be worrying about their job security.
Visa Changes Necessary For Australian Jobs
In his Facebook announcement on immigration and in the interviews that followed, Turnbull repeatedly highlighted that Australia was an “immigration nation.”
He highlighted how foreign workers have always been important to Australia, building large-scale projects such as the Snowy Mountain Scheme, a hydro-electric project that used “100,000 workers from war-shattered Europe.” He continued in this spirit while clarifying how these immigration visa reforms fit into this national mindset.
“We must ensure that the foundation of that success is maintained and the foundation is that our migration system is seen to work in the national interest.”
In an immigration rhetoric paralleled by President Trump in the U.S., Turnbull said his decision was motivated by a pressing domestic need. He said, “Australians must have priority for Australian jobs.” This strikes a similar tone to Trump’s pleas for American businesses to “buy American and hire American.”
Both announcements arrived within hours of one another. It was reported on Monday evening in the U.S. (around 11 a.m. on Tuesday in Australia) that President Trump is due to sign another executive order on immigration on Tuesday. According to SBS, this order will “recommend changes to a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to the United States to fill high-skilled jobs.”
Trump’s latest immigration measure continues his “America First” policy that helped carry him into the White House. This immigration order asks federal agencies to ensure the “strict enforcement of all laws” that might help the drive to create “higher wages and higher employment rates for workers in the United States.”
This sentiment was reflected in Australia this afternoon with the immigration minister furthering Prime Minister Turnbull’s focus on job creation rather than immigration reduction.
“The whole focus here is…to put Australian’s into work.”
Both in the U.S. and Australia, there was blame cast on these visas and their prior implementation. While Trump’s executive order called for a crackdown on the “fraud and abuse” within the U.S. immigration system, Dutton said that, under the previous Labor government, the 457-visa had been “used and abused.”
Whether Trump or Turnbull can avoid such abuses continuing in the future under these immigration reforms only time will tell.
But if Australia really does want to retain its self-proclaimed status as an “immigration nation”, such tightening of visa conditions sends a message to the rest of the world that, perhaps, the door to Australia is no longer as open and inviting as it has been.
[Featured Image by Stefan Postles/Getty Images]