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New Australian work visa norms not directed at any country: envoy

LiveMint logoLiveMint 09-05-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Australia’s attempts to tighten its visa norms are not directed at any particular country and skilled Indian IT workers are likely to qualify under any new norms introduced by Canberra, Australian high commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu said on Tuesday.

Her remarks follow Australia’s decision to scrap a popular work visa used by about 100,000 foreign workers, a majority of them Indians.

The decision was directed at tacking growing unemployment in Australia.

“Indians are very likely to qualify under the rules; the requirement to speak English..., the requirement to have skills that we can’t find in Australia,” Sidhu said. “Our expectation is that many of the Indians who qualify now will continue to qualify in the future.”

India’s misgivings on the subject were conveyed to the Australian government earlier this month during a telephone call between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

In April, Australia announced plans to replace its popular 457 visa programme with a new one requiring higher English-language proficiency and job skills.

The 457 visa programme allows businesses to employ foreign workers for a period up to four years in skilled jobs where there is a shortage of Australian workers.

The majority of the visa holders under the 457 programme were from India followed by the UK and China. As of 30 September, there were 95,757 workers in Australia on primary 457 visas and 76,430 secondary visa holders (members of their family), a Press Trust of India report said, citing Australia’s ABC news.

In her remarks to reporters, Sidhu also said that India and Australia would be soon looking at ways to break a deadlock in talks over a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

During the visit of Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to New Delhi last month, his first to India since taking over as prime minister from Tony Abbott in September 2015, “both the prime ministers had agreed that we would tabulate against a series of issues where we think a good outcome,” Sidhu said.

The two sides since had some “positive conversations” on the subject and these would be carried forward by officials of the two countries who are expected to meet in the coming few weeks or months, Sidhu said.

A delegation from Australia to discuss the matter was expected soon, she said.

Ever since talks began in May 2011, CECA has missed several deadlines over issues such as tariff reduction on Australian agricultural products, especially dairy products.

There have been nine rounds of negotiations so far. The last round was held in September 2015.

Bilateral trade between India and Australia reached $12.16 billion in 2016, almost double compared to what it was a decade ago.

During his visit to India in April, Turnbull said he and Modi had a “very good discussion on CECA and I think it’s fair to say that we feel the progress has not been as fast as either of us like it to be and so we have asked our trade negotiators to schedule an early meeting to get the process moving.”

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