Rudd defends skilled migration changes

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has defended the government’s planned changes to Australia’s skilled migration programme, after the opposition said he’s more interested in deterring skilled workers from coming to Australia than illegal immigrants.

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The federal government’s overhaul of the skilled migration program, which may see thousands of visa applications rejected, could damage Australia’s reputation abroad, the federal opposition said earlier.

But Rudd says the skill system of the Howard government doesn’t deal with the needs of the Australian economy in 2010.

Overhaul announced

Immigration Minister Chris Evans on Monday announced Labor would cancel and refund the applications of 20,000 prospective migrants currently living overseas.

The list of occupations in demand will also be tightened so only highly skilled migrants will be eligible for a visa.

The news comes as UK officials said it would cut the number of visas handed out to foreign students in a bid to stop poeple breaking the rules and working illegally.

Hitting the hip pocket

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said there would be big transition costs associated with the changes, which would hit the international education sector hard.

This is because there are many foreign students already taking courses on the in-demand list, whose study may no longer improve their chances of permanent migration.

“There’ll be many students who’ll be caught between a rock and a hard place,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“It addition … there’ll be a lot of pressure on those colleges (catering to overseas students) and I suspect many will fail.

“That will obviously have impacts for jobs.”

Under the changes, the list of jobs used to select migrants is to be streamlined and reviewed annually, while potential new Australian citizens will need to have better English-language skills.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans acknowledges there’d be animpact on the overseas education sector.

But he says a student visa to Australia is a visa to study, not a visa to stay permanently.

Skilled migration ‘in jeopardy’

Australia’s reputation as a destination for skilled migration could be jeopardised as a result, he said.

He urged the government to ensure that two-thirds of Australia’s migration program came from the skilled workforce.

“It’s important skilled migration remain the dominant component of our migration intake because it … contributes to the economy, that pays the taxes, that pays for the hospitals and the roads and the services,” he said.

Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson said skilled migration needed to be scaled back because it had “three strikes” against it.

It fueled runaway population growth, put downward pressure on wages and conditions, and came at the expense of training young Australian workers, he said.

The move ‘not racist’

Mr Thomson said the program had got out of control since the previous coalition government started allowing international students to apply for permanent residence onshore, instead of making them return to their home countries first.

“(Education) agents have had a field day telling overseas students all they needed to do was to pay large fees and they’d be guaranteed permanent residence here,” he said.

“We need to decouple the link between education and permanent residence.”

Mr Thomson said the move wouldn’t be seen as racist but would in fact lead to a much needed clean-up of the international student industry.

Meanwhile, Liberal backbencher Wilson Tuckey said it wasn’t fair that people who went through the the “proper processes” to migrate should have it tougher, while the “welcome mat” was rolled out for asylum seekers.