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Australia to abolish 457 existing Visa programmes, Changes won’t affect Indians much: Harinder Sidhu

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Harinder Sidhu said that the number of India-born Australians has tripled in the last one decade providing relief by ousting fears over the new visa regime
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New Delhi, May 9, 2017: After Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced last month that he will be abolishing the existing 457 Visa programme, currently used by temporary foreign workers to gain employment, the country’s High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu said on Tuesday that she did not expect the move to affect Indians much.

Speaking at a media interaction organised by the Indian Women’s Press Corps here, Sidhu said the move to abolish the 457 Visa programme was aimed to ensure that people who come to Australia should be properly qualified.

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The 457 Visa programme is used mainly to hire foreign workers in the restaurant, IT and medical industries and the majority of such visa holders came from India, Britain and China. Turnbull’s statement, coming days after he visited New Delhi, caused a lot of consternation in India.

According to government statistics, 95,758 people were living in Australia under 457 Visa programme last year, with the highest proportion coming from India (24.6 per cent), followed by Britain (19.5 per cent) and China (5.8 per cent).

Sidhu said that most of the Indian 457 Visa holders work in the IT sector and, given the “great shortage” of IT workers in her country, “we expect Indians to continue to qualify” for Australian visas.

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“This (457 Visa) is just a temporary visa that allowed people to come and work for a week to four years,” she said.

She said that the number of student visas issued to Indians has also continued to rise over the last three years.

From 46,000 student visas issued in 2014, the number rose to 53,000 in 2015 and to over 60,000 in 2017, the High Commissioner said.

As for incidents of racism in Australia, Sidhu, who is a person of Indian origin, said that Australia was “one of the most successful multicultural societies” with people from 120 countries.

“There is a policy of zero tolerance at all levels of government (on racism),” she said.

In this connection, she also pointed out that 48 per cent of Australia’s total population of 24 million are first and second generation migrants.

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As for India-Australia ties, the High Commissioner said that both countries shared “a fairly strong bilateral relationship”.

She said that during Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit to India last month, he and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi agreed to “add fresh momentum” to the bilateral ties.

Stating that both countries shared common strategic and security interests, Sidhu said that military ties were growing in numbers, “notably bilateral naval exercises”.

She also said that both countries shared a “strong economic relationship” while mentioning that Modi and Turnbull have agreed to “move forward” on the proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

Later this year, the largest ever Australian trade delegation will visit India for the Australia Trade Week.

According to the High Commissioner, the personal relationship between Modi and Turbull is very important for growth of businesses in both countries. (IANS)

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Australian government to find humane solutions for refugees in Manus Island

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FILE - An undated image released Nov. 13, 2017, shows detainees staging a protest inside the compound at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea. (Refugee Action Coalition/Handout via Reuters)
FILE - An undated image released Nov. 13, 2017, shows detainees staging a protest inside the compound at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea. (Refugee Action Coalition/Handout via Reuters). VOA

The U.N. refugee agency is calling on the Australian government to find humane solutions for hundreds of refugees it has abandoned in a precarious situation on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

UNHCR accuses the Australian government of shirking its responsibilities to care for and protect some 800 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

It says the situation has become more precarious for the refugees since the government closed its so-called offshore processing facility at the end of October. Over the past four weeks, it notes, refugees who were moved to three new accommodation sites have been attacked several times. The worst case involved three people armed with machetes and an axe.

UNHCR spokeswoman, Cecile Pouilly, says local hostility and resentment against the refugees is high and growing. She told VOA the Australian authorities must resolve this critical situation.

“We are talking here about people who have suffered extreme trauma and now are feeling so insecure in these places where they are staying. There are many victims of torture. People who have been deeply traumatized have been detained, having no idea what is going to happen next to them. I think this mental issue, this psychological issue is a major one,” Pouilly said.

A recent medical report commissioned by UNHCR finds the cumulative effect of uncertainty about their future is causing a deterioration in the mental and physical health of the refugees.

It warns cessation of services, substandard living and hygiene conditions and inadequate medical care are increasing violence and self-harm among the refugees. (VOA)