SYDNEY, Australia — Saying he was “putting Australians first,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced plans on Tuesday to replace a special visa category that allows some temporary foreign workers to enter Australia.
The rules would make it harder for skilled migrants to work in the country. Mr. Turnbull said that the special category, the so-called 457 visa, would be abolished in favor of two new temporary visas requiring more work experience and, in some cases, greater English skills. Current holders of the visa, who number about 95,000, would not be affected.
“We will no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians,” Mr. Turnbull said. “We’re putting jobs first, and we’re putting Australians first.”
The prime minister said the changes would attract better-skilled workers and encourage the hiring of Australians instead of cheaper foreign labor.
The government’s action mirrors another effort in the United States, where President Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Tuesday that could limit the number of H1-B visas, under which the government admits 85,000 immigrants each year. During his campaign, Mr. Trump pledged to end the H-1B visa program, which he said was allowing companies to fire Americans and replace them with lower-cost foreign employees.
Joanna Howe, an associate professor of law at the University of Adelaide, said that Australia was hewing to a similar argument.
“That rhetoric is very consistent with the rhetoric from Donald Trump around protecting American jobs and also from Theresa May’s government in the United Kingdom post-‘Brexit,’ ensuring that U.K. workers get first access to jobs,” she said.
The 457 visa in Australia was expected to bolster the country’s economy by enlisting foreign workers to fill skill shortages. “The scheme has blown out significantly from its original numbers,” Dr. Howe said. “It’s being used in occupations where Australian graduates are struggling to find work — occupations like accounting and teaching and nursing. There have been concerns around exploitation of the 457 visa holders but also around whether Australian workers are getting first access to jobs.”
Far-right parties like One Nation and left-leaning labor unions have expressed concerns about the number of temporary migrant workers in Australia. But Dean McEvoy, chief executive of the technology industry group TechSydney, said he was worried about the abolition of the program.
“Any plans to cut back on the tech industry’s ability to bring in expertise from overseas before more Australians have been adequately trained in I.T. will only harm the industry and the future of jobs in this country,” Mr. McEvoy said.
Workers in about 650 occupations can qualify under the 457 program in Australia. That will be reduced to no more than 435 under the new system.
The new visas will be available in two-year and four-year versions, with the longer one being targeted to higher-skilled positions and requiring greater English proficiency.
“Australia is the most successful multicultural nation in the world — we are an immigrant nation,” Mr. Turnbull said. “But the fact remains, Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs.”
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