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12 June 2007
Australia's economy is growing at a healthy rate and the country is experiencing very low unemployment.
4290 so-called 457 visas were granted to IT firms during the nine month period - beating out the number of visas issued during the previous financial year entirely.
"If the department continues to approve applications for 457 visas at current rates, the number of IT professionals using the scheme will jump 35 percent this year," said Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.
The 457 visa is similar to the U.S. H-1B visa; it allows companies to temporarily employ foreign workers for hard to find skills. The 457 visa differs from the H-1B visa in that it allows for a broader range of job sectors (the H-1B visa tends to focus on science, engineering, and IT employment).
DIAC recently announced an additional 5000 places to the Skilled Migration Stream in an attempt to assist the labor market in finding skilled workers. The adjustment brings the total 2007/2008 quota to 102,500 places.
Currently, the mining sector is utilizing the 457 scheme to great affect during its recent boom, and the success of the animated film 'Happy Feet' was due in part to employees brought in on the temporary visa.
The 457 visa has had its share of controversy - much like H-1B - with accusations of abuse by employers who underpay temporary migrants.
In response, the Australian government has toughened punishments for employers who abuse the scheme, and offers rewards for those who have a past of compliance with the program by fast-tracking future 457 visa requests.
Exacerbating the low unemployment trend, the nation is experiencing slow population growth caused by a declining natural birth-rate. Both conditions are leading to labor shortage in a broad range of job sectors.
While this is causing some pain at the current time for the economy, the government has its eye toward a future that could get worse without enough immigration to offset the problem.
Australia has a population of 20,434,176 (July 2007 estimate, CIA). The fertility rate is at 1.78 children being born per woman on the average. As most western societies are experiencing at the moment, fewer than 2.1 births per woman leads to a decline in the population, rather than it remaining stable or increasing.
Australia, along with Canada and New Zealand in particular, is facing the fact of an aging labor force that is beginning to retire. One of the few options is to attract young, skilled people from other countries.
In Europe, a number of countries also are experiencing the same trend, with Germany standing out due to its advanced standard of living, high emigration rate and the size of its economy. In Asia, Japan and South Korea are even worse off.
Related: Australian tech association calls for sanctions of companies abusing 457 visa