457 visas jump 19.2% year-on-year: O'Connor

THE number of low paid 457 visa holders almost doubled in the past year, with Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor seizing on the figure to continue the government's push for reform.

It came as Mr O'Connor claimed as many as 10,000 people were rorting the 457 visa system.

Interestingly a Department of Immigration report released on Sunday showed a continuing downward trend in the number of 457 visas being granted.

There was a 1.8% reduction in the number of 457 visas issued between February and March, a trend that has been in place since the peak in August last year.

But while the latest statistics showed temporary skilled visa grants had been trending downward in the past seven months, the actual number of 457 visa holders remained high and demand for the visas remained, Mr O'Connor said.

He pointed to the 19.2% year-on-year jump in sub-class 457 visa holders to more than 105,000 people.

"If demand for these visas continues at the current growth rate, there would be 350,000 temporary workers from overseas on 457 visas in Australia in three years' time," Mr O'Connor said.

Of particular concern to Mr O'Connor was the substantial growth in visas being granted in industries with the lowest paid workers - a 99% increase in accommodation and food services and 75% in retail.

The average base salary for 457 visa holders in these sectors was $55,000 and $69,000 respectively.

"The government has always said that the 457 visa is an important tool for areas of short-term labour needs and skills shortages," he said.

"But when we see evidence that something is not right with the program - such as spikes in particular sectors that are out of step with growth in those industries - we must take action to stamp out any rorts."

He later told Sky News the government had evidence "thousands" of overseas workers were being employed in industries where there are not shortages.

Pressed to give a precise number, he said: "I would say it would exceed over 10,000. I think it is closer to - when you say tens of thousands there's 107,000 a year. But I think it's a very significant breach of the scheme, it's not just negligible proportions, and for that reason the reforms will just make it more difficult for those people that are currently misusing or abusing the scheme."

Mr O'Connor plans to introduce legislative changes to the 457 visa system before the election.

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