Page last updated at 05:37 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Australia to focus immigration policy on skills

Yandicoogina mine, Western Australia
Growing to feed Chinese demand, Australian mining lacks workers

Australia's immigration minister, Chris Evans, has announced policy changes to attract more highly skilled workers.

He criticised the current trend for new arrivals to sign up for cookery or hairdressing courses to gain residency.

Mr Evans said Australia would abolish the current list of 106 skills in demand and review a points test used to assess migrants.

His comments were welcomed by the mining sector, which is struggling to meet China's demand for raw materials.

"We had tens of thousands of students studying cookery and accounting and hairdressing because that was on the list and that got them through to permanent residency," Mr Evans told Australian radio.

Catering to high-end

"We want to make sure we're getting the high-end applicants," the immigration minister said.

We need the people on the job now and the demand going forward will be even greater as these projects get off the ground
Steve Knott
Australian Mines and Metals Association

He said the new immigration intake would focus on health workers, including more doctors and nurses, as well as engineering and mining.

Australia's mining sector is struggling to find tens of thousands of staff to support major firms like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto as they expand to meet China's growing demand for resources.

"We need the people on the job now and the demand going forward will be even greater as these projects get off the ground," Australian Mines and Metals Association Chief Executive Steve Knott told Australian radio.

"The boom in the resources sector, particularly in the north-west of Western Australia, has been quite strong so we welcome the decision that has been made," he said.

Fraud reports

Many overseas students from Asia seek residency in Australia after completing vocational courses at private colleges, usually in hairdressing and catering.

Education experts have been calling on Australia to overhaul its foreign student sector after reports of fraud and that students were using the system purely to gain residency in Australia.

Last year 170,000 people applied to live and work permanently in Australia as skilled migrants, but there were just 108,100 places available, he said.

Mr Evans added that all lower-skilled applications lodged before 1 September 2007, when English language skills and work experience requirements were easier, would have their applications withdrawn and application fees worth A$14 million ($12.15 million) refunded.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that 4.4 million people in Australia were born overseas.

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