In a further slide to the right, Malcolm Turnbull has announced the end of 457 visas and new tougher citizenship requirements for migrants. Racist Pauline Hanson celebrated the moves as the work of One Nation.
The government is scapegoating temporary migrant workers for unemployment in an effort to win back One Nation voters and present itself as “protecting the borders”.
Turnbull even explicitly linked the move on 457 visas to the Liberals’ efforts to keep out refugee boats. He is imitating US President Donald Trump, who issued a similar order restricting temporary work visas in the US the very same day.
The citizenship changes are designed to spread racism and suspicion about immigrants.
The citizenship test will now include questions such as whether religious freedom in Australia allows violence against women, forced marriage or genital mutilation.
This fans the racist idea that migrants are more likely to have backward or sexist ideas, and draws on the effort to demonise Islam as being anti-women. New migrants will also be forced to prove their ability to integrate, through showing they are working and sending their children to school.
Tragically Labor leader Bill Shorten has responded by ramping up his own xenophobic campaign, calling the 457 visa changes a “con-job” and declaring that, “we’ll still be bringing in cooks, builders, bakers and hairdressers from overseas to do jobs that Australians should be doing.”
The Labor Party and union campaign against temporary visas has presented overseas workers as a threat to “Aussie jobs”. But immigration does not cause unemployment. Migrant workers consume goods and services like everyone else, helping to create jobs.
The real threat to jobs comes from corporate profiteering. Transport giant Toll announced 200 job cuts in February, and thousands of jobs have gone in mining. This was not caused by migrants but companies trying to boost profits. Turnbull wants to cut even more jobs in the public service.
It is the bosses and the Liberals cutting penalty rates and attacking construction workers through new anti-worker laws, not 457 workers.
The 457 temporary work visa will be replaced by two new kinds of Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visas by March next year. Workers on existing 457 visas will not be affected.
The most important changes are to reduce the range of occupations temporary visa holders can work in and to make it harder to access permanent residency.
English language requirements will also be increased for the “medium term” visas and a mandatory criminal check imposed. These changes simply fan racist prejudices against migrants.
The changes will make workers on temporary visas more vulnerable to exploitation. Workers on a new “short term stream” will have no right to gain permanent residency at all. They can have their visa renewed once after two years. After that, if they want to stay they will have to move to another temporary visa class.
Those on the new “medium term stream” visas have to wait three years instead of two years before they can become permanent residents. This makes TSS visa holders dependent on their employer for their right to stay in the country for longer.
The best way to stop any exploitation is to welcome foreign workers into the unions, and to insist that temporary visa workers have the right to stay permanently and the same rights as permanent migrants.
There have been very positive examples of unions fighting against the exploitation of workers on temporary visas. Unions like the CFMEU and AMWU have done good work organising 457 workers.
That is the kind of united fight we need. Claiming foreign workers take jobs from locals only serves to divide the workforce, and gets in the way of a real fight for jobs against the bosses.
Instead of trying to out-do Turnbull’s attack on foreign workers, Labor and the unions should stand against the racism, stand up for the rights of migrant workers and start a real fight against the Turnbull government.
By James Supple