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SKILLED migrants will make up almost 70 per cent of Australia’s migration program as the government reprioritises employer-sponsored visas.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who said the skilled migration program needed to match the nation’s economic and skills needs, will also provide 20,000 extra Special Humanitarian Places over five years as part of Australia’s humanitarian intake.
The 2014-15 migration program provides a total of 190,000 places including 128,550 for skilled migration, 60,885 places for family migration and 565 places for migration under the special eligibility stream.
“With the reprioritisation towards employer-sponsored visas, employers will be assisted in finding workers to fill vital positions where they have been unable to find local workers,’’ Mr Morrison said.
His comments are expected to raise the hackles of unions, but he said the moves had been designed to protect “Australian workers, who will have less direct competition from independent migrants who arrive without a guaranteed job’’.
The budget says the skilled stream will continue to focus on Australia’s longer-term skills needs, including addressing skills shortages in regional Australia.
The government will also save $267 million over the forward estimates by removing Labor’s additional 4000 places in the family stream, which were allocated to asylum-seekers.
“This change will provide yet another disincentive for people considering the dangerous boat journey to Australia,’’ Mr Morrison said.
On the humanitarian side of the ledger, the government will welcome 13,750 people in 2014-15 through the program, with the government saying Australia will remain one of the top three refugee resettlement countries in the world.
The 13,750 places will include at least 4000 under the Special Humanitarian Program for the families of offshore humanitarian entrants.
“Under Labor, this program fell to just 500 places as those who came by boat took the place of people who applied through the legitimate process,’’ Mr Morrison said.
He said the increase was the “humanitarian dividend’’ of the government’s success in stopping the arrival of asylum-seeker boats.
One thousand places will also be allocated to the Women at Risk program, which is now in its 25th year and has seen more than 14,000 visas granted to vulnerable refugee women and their children.
In February, the government named an expert panel to investigate competing claims that the 457 visa program was beset by rorts that punished workers and rules that hobbled employers.
The review, which was promised before the election, could give employers another chance to scale back Labor’s controversial limits on skilled worker visas.
Earlier this month, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union called for tougher rules in the program after Immigration Department figures showed that there were 111,780 457 visa workers in Australia as of March 31, up 5.9 per cent.