Australia envoy to India allays fears about visa restrictions

Australia's High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu said the changes made in its work visa regime were not directed at India or any other country and asserted that Indians are not likely to be significantly affected by the modification in the policy.

She also said the change in visa regime was carried out to ensure that Australians get first preference in skilled jobs. She said Indians are mostly employed in the high-skilled IT sector where Australia does not have sufficient manpower.

Australia's envoy to India Harinder Sidhu.
Australia's envoy to India Harinder Sidhu. Photo courtesy:

At a press conference, Sidhu pointed out that bilateral ties have seen a "steady upward trajectory" and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's recent visit to Indiahas "injected a fresh momentum" in the relationship.

"We have diaspora from 120 countries living in Australia. These restrictions are only to maintain our integrity. There is no intention to target any country, including India," Sidhu said while replying to a volley of questions on the issue.

Australia last month announced scrapping of the popular 457 work visa used by over 95,000 foreign workers, a majority of them Indians, to tackle the growing unemployment and replace it with a new programme requiring higher English-language proficiency and job skills.

"I cannot categorically tell you what will happen in the future. We constantly reviewed our visa regime, there is a constant change…. And, as far as the 457 visa (skilled temporary overseas workers) is concerned, we just want to see, if that job can be done by an Australian, before one employs someone from outside.

"But, in IT skills area, we are are in short supply. And, we expect that Indians, who have qualified before, will continue to qualify," she said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week had conveyed to Turnbull India's concerns about the impact of Australia's decision to abolish the popular work visa.

Senior Australian officials had conveyed to India that "the impact of the changes will be negligible on Indian workers, most of whom fall in high skill category."

The High Commissioner said the 457 visa regime only concerns temporary work visas, and the number of Indian students and permanent migrants is continuously growing.

"In 2016, about 2,80,000 visas were issued to Indians. For education, the number of visa has gone up dramatically. In 2014, it was 46,000 students, 2015 it was 53,000 and in 2016, it went up to over 60,000. Also, about the attacks on students in Australia, we have said that all the attacks weren't racial in nature. Many were criminal attacks. Australia does not have tolerance for racial behaviour," she added.