Australia debates offshore work visas

Australian Senator Michaelia CashAustralia's current federal coalition government seeks to abolish the work visa requirement for offshore oil and gas workers, over objections from the Maritime Union of Australia, according to ABC Rural.

The former Labor government, under Gillard, reintroduced the Offshore Resources Act (ORA), which requires workers to have a 457 visa, administered under Australia's Migration Act. That regulation will come into effect on 29 June 2014.

But the current government plans to eliminate the requirement for workers to have a 457 skilled migration visa.

Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash says reintroducing the ORA adds unnecessary red tape and will delay offshore operations. She plans to counter with the ORA Appeal Act, which she will send to the Senate. On 30 May, she told attendees at the 2014 Australian Resource People Summit in Perth that new visa arrangments were underway.

"In the event the ORA Repeal Act [is blocked], I am actually bound by the legislation to introduce a visa.

"Those workers will still have to have a visa, but it will be the existing Maritime Crew Visa, so there's no additional compliance and no additional cost."

Under the new visa arrangements announced by Senator Cash, all people who are subject to the ORA Act will need to hold either a permanent visa, or one of the following:

  • the maritime crew visa for articled crew members of vessels who are participating in, or supporting, an offshore resources activity.
  • the temporary work (short stay activity) (subclass 400) visa for people undertaking short-term, highly specialized, non-ongoing work.
  • the temporary work (skilled) (subclass 457) visa for people being sponsored by an approved business for up to four years.

A representative of the Maritime Union of Australia is skeptical. Assistant secretary for the Western Australia branch, Will Tracey, says,  "There's no reason why this industry like every other shouldn't fall under the Migration Act.

"We have a system that currently works, so these changes that are being suggested now, they're not necessary. It's a nonsense to suggest this is simply about getting skilled labour into the country. They can still do it under the current system. "

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