April 2010 Volume 17 Number 2
Australia, New Zealand
Australia admitted 225,000 immigrants in 2008-09, up 10 percent over 2007-08; about 67,000 of these immigrants were already in Australia (onshore). About half of the 2008-09 immigrants, 118,000, were selected under the skill stream's point system.
More foreign-born and fewer Australian-born students are pursuing PhDs in science and engineering. One reason is that BS-degree holders can achieve relatively high starting salaries, which reduces incentives to study several years for an advanced degree followed by several years of post-doc work. Foreign-born students, however, often have another incentive: they may pursue advanced degrees in order to bolster their chances of obtaining immigrant visas.
457-Visas. Employer applications for 457-skilled temporary worker visas fell by half in the five months after September 14, 2009; one reason was a new requirement that employers pay equal wages to foreign workers. The average earnings of 457-visa holders rose from A$75,00 to A$85,000. Most of the estimated 70,000 workers with 457-visas are health care professionals.
Employers do not have to lay off 457-visa holders before they lay off similarly qualified Australians, prompting protests in March 2010 when Australians were laid off by Ottoway Engineering while Filipino 457-visa holders were retained.
The Australian government in February 2010 announced plans to revise its targeted Skilled Occupations List, which contained 106 occupations including cooks and hairdressers.
Pacific. The Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme was launched in 2008 to provide up to 2,500 seasonal work visas to Pacific Islanders to harvest crops in Australia. However, in March 2010, halfway through the PSWPS, only 137 Pacific Islanders had been admitted from Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Vanuatu. In March 2010, the government approved the recruitment of 650 fruit pickers from Papua New Guinea, but they are unlikely to arrive until the spring 2011 harvest.
Australian farmers complained that they lost up to A$700 million in 2009 for lack of harvest labor. Some farm employers complain that workers admitted under the PSWPS cost too much because of the fees levied by the three officially approved labor hire-firm intermediaries.
In New Zealand, a peak 5,000 Pacific Islanders were employed during the spring 2010 harvesting season. The higher number of guest workers is attributed to New Zealand's head start with the 2007 Recognized Seasonal Employer Scheme, so that New Zealand farmers became accustomed to Pacific Islanders before the global recession reduced demand and increased the supply of local workers, working holidaymakers, and foreign students admitted with work visas. Some Pacific Islanders were in their fourth season of New Zealand work in 2010, and most are more productive than working holidaymakers.
A maximum 8,000 Pacific Island workers can be admitted under the RSE, and 7,000 were in New Zealand in March 2010. There have been a few labor law issues. The minimum wage for workers employed in New Zealand is NZ$12.50 an hour, but contractor New Zealand Vines in March 2010 was found to have underpaid its workers, who earned piece rate wages that were less than the minimum wage.
In Australia, the number of working holidaymakers almost doubled between 2007-08 and 2008-09, and many more reportedly sought farm jobs to earn money. Because intermediaries selected Pacific Islanders, some "know how to read a pay slip but don't know what an orange is," according to one farm employer.
Asylum. Foreigners continue to arrive by boat in northern Australia and apply for asylum; over 2,000 foreign asylum seekers were being housed on Christmas Island in March 2010. In April 2010, the government announced that it would stop processing asylum applications from Sri Lankans for three months and Afghanis for six months in a bid to reduce the number arriving by boat.
Rowan Callick, "Pacific scheme withers on the vine," The Australian, March 2, 2010.