“Australia first” means the door is closed to goat farmers and racing jockeys

The lucky ones.
The lucky ones.
Image: Reuters/David Gray
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As if in step with Donald Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order, the Australian government announced yesterday (April 18) it would toughen visa requirements for foreign workers to prioritize “Australian jobs and Australian values.”

Announcing the policy change through Facebook, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull declared the current visa program had “lost credibility” due to the high number of foreign workers entering Australia under the scheme in recent years. “We’re putting jobs first, we’re putting Australians first,” Turnbull said.

Among the jobs that will now be reserved for Australians are jockey, goat farmer, sail maker, antique dealer—and migration agent.

Turnbull is specifically targeting the 457 visa, similar to the H-1B visa in the US that president Trump is trying to curb. Over 95,000 foreign workers are now working in Australia on the 457 visa.

“Instead of grasping the opportunity presented by anti-migrant sentiment across the developed world, the Turnbull Government yesterday decided to join the party,” wrote Henry Sherrell, a researcher on migration at Australian National University.

The scheme has become a political hot potato, as public criticism that foreign workers are being chosen over Australians mounts. A growing number of conservative politicians have been calling for a drastic reduction of immigration to Australia, with some arguing that immigration is driving up house prices.

The visa restrictions will hit potential immigrants from India particularly hard, as they accounted for almost a quarter of the intake from 2015 to 2016, followed by the UK at 19.5%. The clampdown on the H-1B visa program in the US is also disproportionately affecting Indian tech workers. Singapore, too, is shutting the door on Indian tech workers moving to the island-state.

The current program will be replaced by two new visa classes, a two-year visa and a four-year one targeted at specific high-level skills, according to Turnbull’s policy changes. The Australian government will also introduce a mandatory police check, toughen English language requirements, and slash the number of occupations covered by the 457 visa down from 651 to 435 occupations, with 216 occupations removed and access to 59 other occupations restricted.

Pauline Hanson from the One Nation party, who fashions herself as Australia’s answer to Donald Trump, was quick to take credit for Turnbull’s announcement.

Politicians from the left of center Greens party labeled Turnbull’s move a “racist dog whistle” and a “lullaby sung to soothe One Nation voters.”

The policy change is all the more striking as just weeks ago, Turnbull hailed Australia as the “most successful multicultural society in the world” in a speech. Twenty-eight percent of Australians were born overseas as of 2015, second only to Saudi Arabia, which relies heavily on an army of temporary migrant workers. Turnbull has also been a staunch defender of economic openness. “The world must embrace free trade, not retreat from it,” he recently told Australian business leaders.

In what may be a relief to potential migrant acupuncturists, farriers, flower growers, and wine makers, those jobs are apparently still in demand in Australia. Golfers, however, didn’t make the cut.