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Gillard targets IT industry over 457 visas

The Federal Government has targeted the IT industry in its campaign to reform 457 visas.

In February, immigration minister Brendan O'Connor announced the government would tighten requirements around 457 visas to ensure it addressed genuine skills shortages and allowed local workers to get a "fair go", with 457 visas issued to temporary skilled workers to fill jobs that cannot be filled locally.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told an Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) summit today that the IT industry is the largest sector that employs overseas workers. One in 20 temporary overseas workers in Australia are employed in IT roles in New South Wales, Gillard said.

"It is just not acceptable that information technology jobs, the quintessential jobs of the future, the very opportunities being created by the digital economy, precisely where the big picture is for our kids, should be such a big area of imported skills," she said.

A total of 5800 temporary workers were brought into Australia in seven months, compared to 4500 Australian IT undergraduate student completions in 2011, according to Gillard.

Gillard said the visas were not being used to fill genuine skills shortages and the system must be fixed.

She said 107,000 people working in Australia were temporary overseas workers, with a shift from higher skilled jobs and people with degrees to lower skilled roles.

Gillard also said temporary overseas employees increased 20 per cent compared to a year ago, compared to 1 per cent employment growth.

"That in itself is evidence of a problem: the number of people coming here to fill short-term gaps should not be growing 20 times faster than employment overall," she said.

O'Connor has announced plans to overhaul 457 visa restrictions to make sponsors declare they will commit to employing Australian citizens; restrict the number of workers a business can sponsor; tighten the definitions around eligible positions for the visa; and make training for Australian citizens a requirement for 457 applications.

In February this year the Clarius Skills Index revealed there was a shortage of 4600 IT professionals across Australia in the December 2012 quarter, with skills in data warehousing, business intelligence and SAP technologies remaining in high demand.

Westpac Banking Group's CIO Clive Whincup has claimed the bank looks offshore for IT labour because there "simply aren't enough people" in Australia with the right skills for certain roles.

However, Andrew Cross, managing director of IT recruitment firm Ambition Technology, has previously said there is not necessarily an IT skills shortage. Instead, he believes the problem is employers narrowing their candidate requirements too much.

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU


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