There’s certainly a diversity of views in the Fairfax press. While the SMH runs large and hard with a Dead men working investigation of employer 457 visa abuse, the AFR’s front page warns of major projects being disrupted by “the mess of red tape that has doubled the time it takes to hire skilled workers under temporary visas”.

One’s too hot, one’s too cold and Goldilocks is nowhere in sight.

The SMH stories have the humanity but it’s the AFR with the numbers that say much more and the promise by minister Haneef Andrews of a “more streamlined process” for granting 457s — but maybe that was just an edited transcript of his comments.

The AFR has the numbers on primary 457 visas issued in 2006-07: 46,680, up 18% on the previous year. What it misses is the number of “secondary” 457 visas for family members — 40,640.

Thus the real number of 457 visas in the latest year was 87,320. Even if the growth rate slows to 15% this year, we’ll break the 100,000 mark and the gross annual immigration number of 300,000 Crikey first suggested in May starts to look conservative.

The message coming from employers certainly doesn’t sound like any sort of slowdown. The call is to increase the spread of occupations covered by 457s, extending the downgrading that’s already underway from what was meant to be a purely “skilled” worker category.

The breakdown of the main industries sponsoring 457 primary visas indicates our most obvious worker shortages. Top of the list isn’t construction (fourth place) but “health and community services” with 5,820 visas accounting for 17% of the total and up by 37% on the previous year.

Dr Haneef was one of those 5,820 propping up our deficient public health system and masking the criminal failure of governments to train local health workers.

Peter Fray

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