Business groups have savaged a crackdown on the use of overseas workers to fill skill shortages, warning it will add to red tape for employers and suggesting the Gillard Government is pandering to anti-foreign "jingoism".
Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor on Saturday declared new rules for subclass 457 temporary work visas, saying there was evidence some companies were using them to discriminate against locals. Under the changes, bosses will have to show they are nominating to fill a position where there is a genuine shortage of skilled workers, the market salary exemption will rise from $180,000 to $250,000, to stop foreign workers undercutting local wages and there will be greater English-language requirements for some jobs.
In one example, the Immigration Department is investigating a Perth-based resources company alleged to have almost exclusively hired people from one country without a skills-related need.
Despite a slowdown in applications, WA is the second-biggest user of 457 visas after NSW, with just over 8000 visas approved in the last six months of 2012. The visas are popular in mining, construction, hospitality and health.
Unions have complained the scheme was being rorted but WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said less than one per cent of employers did the wrong thing.
"It's disappointing that . . . the Federal Government is making the temporary migration 457 visa system more restrictive, onerous and costly for all businesses," said Mr Pearson, who is a member of the Government's advisory committee on skilled migration.
Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said with $650 billion of proposed resources projects in Australia, foreign workers, who cost $60,000 more per person, would be needed.
"Skilled migration remains a very small, but very important part of our country's resource investment opportunity," Mr Knott said.