The latest union concerns of declining workplace safety standards should the English-language requirements be lowered are baseless and a blatant example of unfounded claims, according to former Migration Institute of Australia State President Mark Glazbrook.

The response comes after the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union’s (CFMEU) claims that 457 workers that attained a visa under lower English-language requirements die at double the rate of other workers, and that any plans to lower the English-language standards “could put lives on construction sites at risk.”

The allegation was supported by a tenuous link between an increased number of visa-holder deaths in 2007-08 than from 2009-11, when the language requirements were significantly raised.

No information was offered regarding the impact the victims’ English-language competency had on their deaths.

Mr Glazbrook says that the claims have little to do with genuine safety concerns, and are merely an attempt to demonise and tarnish the reputation of the 457 visa program, which is currently under review from the Federal Government.

“If safety standards were truly a concern of unions such as the CFMEU, why is it that they are limited only to the 457 program?” he said.

“Collectively there would be almost 500,000 people in Australia on visas such as Working Holiday visas, Spouse and Protection visas, as well as Student visa-holder dependents and 457 visa-holder dependents that all have work rights in Australia, despite being subjected to no English requirements unlike those imposed on the 457 program.

“If this concern was genuine, the unions would be lobbying for increased English-language requirements across the board, not just the 457 program which makes up approximately 1% of the total national workforce.”

Mr Glazbrook said that he is hopeful that the next item for reform will be the permanent employer sponsored program where the Department increased the English requirements in the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme from an overall band score of 4.5 to 6.0 in each of the 4 components of the IELTS test on the 1st of July 2012.

He said that despite the Department’s claims that the increase was in response to widespread calls for reform, a freedom of information request carried out by his office revealed that all 48 submissions made available (out of a total 53), not one mentioned a recommendation to raise English to its current level of 6.0 in each of the 4 parts of the IELTS test.

“In the absence of any information in support of the changes to the program regarding English, it appears that the increase in the English language requirement was purely introduced to restrict the number of applications rather than any other factor” he said.

“This has been very detrimental to many business and business owners in South Australia.”

More recently, difficulties with the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme have been further exacerbated by the 2-year post qualification work experience requirement, which has been made applicable to trade-occupation students.

With a large number of businesses currently facing extreme difficulties due to severe skill shortages, and industries crying out for greater access to skilled migrants to fill gaps in the local labour force and to keep regional communities alive, it would be disastrous if the 457 program became more difficult and the permanent employer sponsored program was not reviewed.

If the permanent employer sponsored program is not reviewed, Migration Solutions are hopeful that the Minister for Immigration will consider introducing an economic migration program to assist businesses in regional and low population growth areas of Australia, where economic activity is below  the national average.

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