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English language requirements for skilled migrants set to be relaxed

14 September 20141 comment
A female construction worker on a building site in Brisbane.  (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

A female construction worker on a building site in Brisbane. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

The Federal Government has flagged its intention to relax English language requirements for Australia’s skilled migration programs.

In a speech delivered at National Press Club this week, the Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison suggested the English language requirement was used “more as an industrial lockout rather than an honest attempt to ensure appropriate language skills”.

However unions said the move could have workplace safety implications with ACTU President Ged Kearney telling the ABC that the move looked like an “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” policy.

“If workers can’t read instructions … if they find it difficult to grasp occupational health and safety, I’m afraid we’re going to see a lot more accidents; maybe even more fatalities at work sites.”

However, Steve Knott, Chief Executive of AMMA welcomed the Minister’s announcement.

“The resource industry’s use of skilled migration has declined in recent years, but where we do employ international specialists their expertise and skills are often critical to safety, performance and supporting a large number of aligned Australian jobs,” Mr Knott said.

“It is encouraging to have our Immigration Minister publicly acknowledge how skilled migration supports both economic growth and employment opportunities for the Australian workforce, after an unfortunate politicisation of the skilled migration debate under the previous government.

“The minister also reaffirmed what employer groups like AMMA have long maintained, which is that misuse of the 457 Visa system is isolated and there has certainly been no widespread rorting. Skilled migrants support short-to-medium term skills shortages when Australians are unable to fill such roles. They pay tax from day one, and create local jobs”, said Mr Knott.

Other proposed changes include a reduction in market salary rate comparisons from $250,000 to $180,000 per annum.

“Clearly employers should not be burdened with onerous salary comparison requirements for high income earners being paid more than $180,000 per year,” Mr Knott said.

Penalties for employers who take money from 457 visa applicants in exchange for jobs will also be increased under the government’s overhaul of the skilled migration program.