By Clyde Mooney

The Australian Hotels Association has taken issue with the Federal Government's introduction of legislation targeting overuse of 457 visas in a "flattening" labour market. 

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor tabled the bill, which will require employers to keep documentation proving they have advertised locally before using the scheme.

O'Connor said there were 106,680 such visas in use last month, up 55 per cent since figures for this time in 2010 and representing 0.7 per cent of the country's working population.  

"It concerns the government that, at a time when the labour market has been flattening and some sectors and regions have experienced lay-offs and increased unemployment, the Subclass 457 program has continued to grow," O'Connor said in a statement.

The bill is strongly endorsed by the union movement and rumoured to be linked to political donations in the lead-up to September's election, but employer groups including the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) have come out strongly against suggestions the scheme is being 'rorted'. 

AHA National CEO Des Crowe suggests that any references by the Minister to the hospitality industry are more about "playing politics at the expense of good policy".

"Despite making up a relatively small proportion of the industry workforce, 457 visas remain an important part of business strategies to overcome shortages of skills and labour that can't be filled by the local population.

"If employers could fill their labour needs locally there would be no need or desire for overseas workers, but for as long as there are local labour shortages businesses will continue needing to find workers from overseas to fill these gaps."

The AHA cites figures from the Department of Immigration & Citizenship and the Federal Government's Skills Info website, which shows there were just 5,390 of the 457 visas granted in the hospitality industry over the past 12 months from a total industry workforce of 796,000, representing 0.6 per cent.  

The Federal Government is attempting to get the bill passed in the final two sitting weeks of parliament.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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