SYDNEY—Australia will cut its annual skilled worker migrant intake by 14 percent in an effort to preserve jobs for Australians after a spike in unemployment, the government announced Monday.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the skilled migration visa program, under which people can immigrate to Australia to fill certain occupations, would be reduced from 133,500 to 115,000 in 2009-10. The list of occupations would also be cut, Evans said.
“The economic circumstances in Australia have changed as a result of the global financial crisis,” Evans said.
“It is prudent to reduce this year’s migration intake accordingly.”
Skilled workers make up the majority of migrants to Australia.
Bricklayers, plumbers, welders, carpenters and metal fitters are among the occupations to be taken off the list as demand for skilled labor falls in the building and construction sectors. Professions such as nurses, doctors, engineers and information technology will be safe because Australia still has shortages in those fields.
Evans told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio that the government wanted to ensure Australians were not competing for jobs during the economic downturn.
“We don’t want people coming in, competing with Australians for the same jobs when the jobs are in short supply,” Evans said.
Employers can bring in foreign workers only if they cannot find local employees.
Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull welcomed the announcement and said the government should make further cuts.
“They should be prepared to reduce the immigration intake in light of the economic circumstances,” he told ABC radio, when asked whether the government should go further than the latest announcement.
“We’re disappointed they have failed to do so in recent months.”
The Master Builders Association supported the cuts, saying unemployment was rising in the building and construction sector.
“We’re projecting at least a loss of 50,000 jobs in this industry over the next 12 months,” the association’s chief executive, Wilhelm Harnisch, told ABC radio.
Last week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that unemployment had risen to 5.2 percent, its highest level in nearly four years. The federal government predicts a jobless rate of 5.5 percent by June, and 7 percent by the same time next year.
The global downturn that began to bite last year has brought about a swift reversal of fortunes for Australia’s economy, which has enjoyed 17 consecutive years of growth fueled by voracious demand from China and elsewhere for its mineral exports.
But nearby New Zealand, in recession for the past year, had no plans to reduce its intake of 45,000 skilled migrants a year, Prime Minister John Key said.
“New Zealand needs skilled migrants to grow,” he told reporters.
“We have a skills deficit, and while that may abate slightly because of the downturn in the economy and the growing unemployment, we still have to make sure we have enough skills to grow our economy and develop further,” he said. AP