October 2014, Volume 21, Number 4
Australia, New Zealand
The Australian Liberal-National coalition government elected in 2014 has fulfilled one of its election pledges, reducing the arrival of boat people from Indonesia. During the first eight months of 2014, only one boat with 157 "illegal maritime entrants" arrived, compared with 268 boats and 18,800 migrants in the same period in 2013.
PM Tony Abbott, who is coping with the possibility of recession after 23 years of economic growth, plans to maintain tight controls on arrivals by sea, sending migrants to Nauru for processing and settlement if they are found to be refugees there rather than in Australia. Critics condemn Australia's treatment of asylum seekers, saying it detracts from the credit in the international community that Australia earned over decades for its generous refugee resettlement policies.
In September 2014, Australia announced that foreigners recognized as refugees in Nauru could choose to resettle in Cambodia, with resettlement costs paid by Australia. There were an estimated 3,300 asylum applicants in Australia's offshore detention centers in September 2014.
457 Visas. Australia introduced the 457 visa for skilled foreign workers in 1996. Since 2012, its official name has been Temporary Work (Skilled) (Subclass 457) visa.
Employers begin the admissions process by becoming "designated approved sponsors" with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. They then apply to hire foreigners with 457-visas who can stay in Australia from three months to four years; while working in Australia, 457-visa holders may apply for immigrant visas.
The 457-visa is attractive because the spouses and family members of 457-visa holders may accompany them to Australia and obtain work permits, and 457-visa holders who lose their jobs may stay in Australia up to 90 days to seek another job.
There were 108,870 foreigners with 457-visas at the end of 2013-14. Employers must pay them at least A$53,900 a year, with a wage reduction of up to 10 percent allowed in some cases. With foreign students allowed to work, backpackers who can work, and 457 visa holders, there are an estimated one million foreign workers in Australia.
Unions complain that 457 visas are used to undercut negotiated or award wages. Under so-called Designated Area Migration Agreements, employers can receive special consideration for 457-visas to build infrastructure projects, such as the A$34 billion Ichthys LNG project near Darwin. Unions say that 457-visa holders hold down the wage spikes that would normally be associated with big projects in remote areas.