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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK
Australia seeks skilled workers
Migrant workers will have to take a new citizenship test
Australia is to admit more skilled migrant workers to help ease its labour shortage while cracking down on firms which mistreat foreign staff.

An extra 5,000 places for skilled migrants were unveiled by ministers as part of the government's annual budget.

New powers are also being sought to fine firms which underpay workers or place them in unskilled jobs.

The commodities boom has boosted the economy, but a major drought, the worst seen in a century, has hit growth.

Growth this year is now expected to be 2.5% as opposed to the 3.25% previously forecast, with the farming sector particularly badly affected.

Despite this, employment remains at a 30-year high, resulting in shortages of skilled workers in certain industries.

Fast-track applications

Quotas levels for migrant visas will rise to 152,800 next year, with 102,500 places set aside for skilled workers.

But workers will have to prove they can speak reasonable English as well as take a new citizenship test coming into force later this year.

Australian flag
Australia's immigration policy is aimed at prosperity and cohesion

To help employers recruit staff quickly, companies which comply scrupulously with the migrant visa system will have their applications fast-tracked.

However, those firms which breach the rules will be subject to new audits.

Those found guilty of the most serious offences, such as not paying staff the minimum wage, could be hit with heavy fines.

John Howard's Liberal government, which faces elections later this year, also announced personal tax cuts worth 31.5bn Australian dollars (13bn) over four years.

Treasurer Peter Costello said the measures were "responsible" and would "prepare Australia for the rapid changes of the future" while helping hard-working families.

But opposition politicians criticised the budget as a pre-election giveaway which offered too little for education and the environment.

"It is obvious the Treasurer is rolling in money," said Wayne Swan, treasury spokesman for the opposition Labor Party. "It has been raining gold bars thanks to the mining boom."

Australia's economy picks up pace
07 Mar 07 |  Business
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Drought slows Australia's economy
06 Dec 06 |  Business

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