Australia toughens foreign worker visas: Australian jobs for Australians

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton listens on during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 18 April 2017

Australia toughens foreign worker visas: Australian jobs for Australians

SYDNEY: Australia will abolish a temporary work visa popular with foreigners and replace it with a new program requiring better English-language and job skills, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday.

Turnbull, struggling with poor voter approval ratings, rejected suggestions the visa policy change was in response to far-right wing political parties, such as One Nation, demanding more nationalistic policies.
But in a Facebook announcement Turnbull said: “Our reforms will have a simple focus: Australian jobs and Australian values.”
In a similar vein, US President Donald Trump was to sign an executive order later on Tuesday directing changes to a temporary visa program used to bring foreign workers to the US to fill highly skilled jobs. The order is an attempt by Trump to carry out his “America First” election campaign pledges.
Turnbull said the visa change would attract better-skilled workers and see Australians employed over cheap foreign workers brought in under the old 457 visa program.
“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 introduced in the 1990s to expedite the entry of business professionals and highly skilled migrants but over time it was opened up to include a broad suite of workers.
The program has become mired in controversy with allegations the visa was being misused by employers to import workers on the cheap, not to fill genuine skill shortages.
“We are bringing the 457 visa class to an end. It’s lost its credibility,” Turnbull said at a press conference in Canberra.
Anyone now in Australia on a 457 visa will not be affected by the new arrangements.
The 457 visa, now used by about 95,000 foreign workers, will be replaced by a new temporary visa and the list of occupations that qualify for a visa will be reduced from more than 200.
The new visa will be limited to a two-year period and a second four-year visa will require a higher standard of English language. From 1901 to around 1973, Australia restricted non-white immigration under a “White Australia” policy, which required an English language test.
The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), which represents more than 60,000 businesses, said the changes would improve the integrity of Australia’s visa program.
“The temporary skilled visa program 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.”


Time is on her side: Indian grandmother joins top 100 list

Updated 30 September 2020

Time is on her side: Indian grandmother joins top 100 list

  • US magazine hails Bilkis, 82, as ‘symbol of resistance’ over citizenship protests

NEW DELHI: As the black SUV pulled up outside her village, 82-year-old Bilkis could see a group of people waiting with garlands and big smiles on their faces.

They approached her one by one, and as she slowly stepped out of the car, some greeted her with a “namaste” or “salaam,” while others queued to take a selfie.

It has been a week since Bilkis was named by Time magazine as one of its 100 most influential people for 2020 list, but the “dadi” (grandmother) of Kurana village, nearly 70 km west of New Delhi, says she is still getting used to all the attention.

“This is new to me. I have never experienced anything like this in my life,” she said.

“I was born in this village and married here, too, but never greeted this way by the villagers. It seems I have done something that has touched them,“ Bilkis, who uses one name, told Arab News.

A mother of six and grandmother of 17, Bilkis has never been to school, and can neither read nor write.

But she gained prominence earlier this year when she joined several other young and older women in a three-month demonstration in New Delhi’s Muslim-dominated Shaheen Bagh neighborhood, protesting against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), while braving harsh winter temperatures in the capital.

“I sat on the street from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day for 101 days without a break,” Bilkis said.

On Sept. 22, Time magazine honored her for being “the symbol of resistance in a nation where the voices of women and minorities are being systematically drowned out by the majoritarian politics” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime.

More accolades are in order.

On Tuesday, a women’s group said the magazine’s “recognition of Bilkis comes at a dark time when anyone who stands for justice, equality and democratic rights are being put behind bars.”

According to Annie Raja, general secretary of National Federation of Indian Women, Bilkis represents the “resolve of the women to safeguard democracy and the secularism of the constitution.” 

The CAA grants citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsis from the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims. 

It is part of a proposed National Register of Citizenship (NRC), an initiative to identify “genuine citizens” of India. 

However, many Muslims fear the exercise will leave them “stateless” and drive them out of the country.

Opposing the move, Indians from all walks of life, faiths and communities began protesting last December, culminating in violent clashes with police at New Delhi’s Jamia Milia University in March.

“When I saw students on TV being beaten by police for protesting against the CAA, I decided to join the protest in Shaheen Bagh,” Bilkis said.

For three months, protesters occupied one of the capital’s busiest areas, with the sit-in ending on March 25 after the government announced a nationwide lockdown to limit the coronavirus outbreak.

Bilkis said she didn’t expect the protests would last that long, but would “do it all over again” if necessary. 

“I was born here and I will die here,” Bilkis said, referring to Kurana village, where she has lived for more than 70 years.

“I am not fighting for myself, I have lived my life, but I am fighting for the new generation who have their whole life in front of them. We are the citizens of the country. Our forefathers were born here. Where will we go if we leave?”

She blamed the government for encouraging religious violence in New Delhi in February when more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, lost their lives.

“This government is creating a wall of hatred and has arrested innocent people. They should be released. This is an atrocity against the students,” she said.

“Hindus and Muslims have existed together in harmony for ages; why does the government want to create religious disharmony?” she said.

A young villager, Zaid Khan, who has been listening to Bilkis, nods his head before sharing his opinion.

“Dadi (grandma) is fighting for us, and we have to stand by her. I am happy the issue is being highlighted again. The law has only one aim — to target Muslims,” Khan said.

Manzoor Ahmad, Bilkis’ son, said that while the entire family is proud of her achievements, their “real win” would be for the CAA to be withdrawn.

Bilkis joins other Indian women, including Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone, and celebrated lawyers Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, to be featured by Time magazine in recent years.