'No need for emigrants to panic' as nations take tough immigration line
Irish people looking to work in Australia need not panic - despite changes made to one of the country's most popular visa programmes, according to a leading visa expert.
Edwina Shanahan, managing director of visafirst.com, said her office has been flooded with "frantic" calls after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced he would be "putting Australians first" and scrapping its 457 visa programme.
The programme was one of the most popular ones used by young Irish workers embarking on a "rite of passage" to travel and work in Australia, according to Ms Shanahan.
Many were concerned their dreams of living in Australia were being dashed.
But unless you're a goat farmer, radio presenter, singer or funeral director - four of the 200 occupations that no longer qualify for a temporary work visa under the scheme - the changes will not have a significant impact on most Irish workers, Ms Shanahan told the Irish Independent.
"The announcement took a lot of people by surprise. But we are urging people not to panic," she said.
Anyone who is currently living in Australia on a 457 visa or was recently granted one will not be affected, she said.
The scheme is being replaced by the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) programme, "which will still leave the door open to the thousands of Irish looking to travel and work in Australia," she said.
The changes will impact on specific trades, including those such as web developers, human resources advisers and telecommunication technicians who will no longer qualify under the 457 scheme. But for thousands of Irish looking to work in Australia, there are still more than 400 occupations on the skills shortage list that qualify for the visa.
"What we are telling people is that yes, the change will definitely impact on Irish workers," Ms Shanahan said.
"While the numbers might fall slightly, we don't expect to see a huge drop in the numbers of Irish going Down Under over the next few years as a result of these changes.
"This is simply a reform of the sponsorship programme - it is not closing. The goal is that the people who secure sponsorship align with the skills need of the Australian workforce," she said.
New Zealand, meanwhile, also announced this week it is planning to tighten access to its skilled work visa programmes in a similar move to protect indigenous jobs and control record levels of migration.
The proposed changes would see the amount of time an unskilled worker such as a fruit-picker can work in the country among other changes.
And in a similar move to protect American jobs, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday which he dubbed "Buy American, Hire American" that gives federal agencies the power to crack down on fraud and abuse within the immigration system.
The order includes a 220-day review of the HB-1 temporary worker visa programme for skilled workers.
However, Rory Kavanagh, a spokesman for graduate advice and recruitment agency Gradireland, said the uptake of the visa programme was relatively low amongst skilled Irish workers.
For Irish graduates hoping to work in the US technology industry, he advised would-be emigrants to do their homework and consult with an immigration lawyer first.
"There is a lot of alternatives out there for graduates. There is a constant demand for specialist knowledge with big companies, many of whom have offices here," he said.