Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull .image courtesy:Sky News

The Turnbull government is abolishing 457 visas for skilled migrants and replacing it with a tighter program. In a Facebook-first announcement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the temporary visas for foreign workers would be replaced by a new class of visa, better targeted to ensure that foreign workers were only brought in to fill genuine skills shortages.

Australia today abolished a visa programme used by over 95,000 temporary foreign workers, majority of them Indians, to tackle the growing unemployment in the country.

The 457 visa is the most commonly used program for Australian or overseas employers to sponsor skilled overseas workers to work in Australia temporarily. The 457 visa provides 2 main alternatives, Business sponsorship and self-sponsorship.

The full title of this subclass of visa was Temporary Business (Long Stay) and was introduced soon after John Howard became Prime Minister in 1996. The title of the visa was changed to Temporary Work (Skilled) (Subclass 457) visa on 24 November 2012.

In his video posted to Facebook, Mr Turnbull said: “Australia is the most successful multicultural nation in the world. We are an immigration nation, but the fact remains: Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs. So we’re abolishing 457 visas, the visas that bring temporary foreign workers to our country.”

“So the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa specifically designed to recruit the best and the brightest in the national interest,” Mr Turnbull said.

“The new visa will better target genuine skills shortages including in regional Australia.

“It will include new requirements including previous work experience, better English language proficiency and labour market testing.”

The government will also establish a new training fund to help train Australians to fill skills gaps.

“I’ll have more to say about all this in the coming days and weeks, but our reforms will have a simple focus: Australian jobs and Australian values,” Mr Turnbull said.

Australia’s 457 visa was created to address shortages of local workers in certain skilled professions. But critics argued that businesses abused it by paying foreigners lower wages than most Australians would accept.

Turnbull said the new visa scheme would ensure that businesses only bring in foreign workers who are crucial to filling shortages of critical skills.

“It is focused relentlessly on the national interest and in ensuring that temporary migration visas are not a passport for foreigners to take up jobs that could and should be filled by Australians,” Turnbull told reporters in the nation’s capital, Canberra.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said anyone now in Australia on a 457 visa will not be affected by the new arrangements.

“What we propose is that under the temporary skills shortage visa short-term stream there will be a two-year visa, with the options of two years, but there won’t be permanent residency outcomes at the end of that.”

The announcement follows a crackdown on 457 visas last month, when Mr Dutton said the Government would scrap the fast-track arrangements in place for 457 skilled work visas for fast food chains.

Turnbull said the new programme will ensure that foreign workers are brought into Australia in order to fill critical skill gaps and not brought in because an employer finds it easier to recruit a foreign worker than go to the trouble of hiring an Australian.

Turnbull’s announcement comes days after he visited India where a range of issues, including national security, counter terrorism, education and energy, were discussed and six agreements were signed.

The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), which represents more than 60,000 business, 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.”