Oz cuts work permits amid recession fears
Australia will cut its intake of migrants for the first time in a decade, the Government said today, amid concern that skilled foreign workers could stoke resentment by taking jobs at a time of rising unemployment.
The crushing blow for would-be Irish emigrants to the country was first revealed in the Herald last month.
With a recession looming and unemployment expected to reach 7pc by mid-2010, Immigration Minister Chris Evans said intake of skilled migrants would be reduced by about 14pc.
Australia goes to the polls in late 2010 and immigration has been a charged issue.
A leading migration expert, Bob Kinnaird, said record recent arrivals in a fast shrinking job market were leading to "highly combustible" conditions in regional areas.
Australia is a nation of immigrants and has been enjoying a boom in new arrivals for the past decade to help meet labour shortages during a China-fuelled mining boom.
But six of major trading partners are now in recession and growth has stalled. The country moved a step closer to recession this month with the first contraction in eight years and the economy shrinking by 0.5pc.
Australia's jobless rate spiked to 5.2pc from 4.8pc last month with the biggest impact felt by full-time workers. Some economists fear unemployment levels could go as high as 10pc.
Evans said next year's immigration intake would be cut to 115,000, from 133,500 in 2008-09.
In major resource states, retrenched mine workers returning to their home towns found that jobs there had been filled by foreign workers, sparking resentment, Kinnaird said. "You could say in those last few months that madness has reigned," he told the Brisbane Times newspaper.
But the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the government needed to be wary of tinkering with immigration, as many skilled employment areas still faced a worker shortage.
Evans, who removed hairdressers and cooks off Australia's critical occupation shortage list at Christmas, is now deleting foreign bricklayers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians.
Further cuts were likely in the May 12 budget, he said, leaving only health occupations, engineering and information technology as needed skills.
"We'll look to run a smaller programme and keep the capacity to make sure we can bring in any labour we might need as the year develops," Evans said.