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Greens in bid to stymie Malcolm Turnbull's visa changes

The Turnbull government's plan to scrap the 457 skilled migration visa faces new hurdles in the Senate with the Greens set to refer it to a committee to examine if it could harm the economy, hobble individual businesses or put at risk Australia's multicultural fabric.

Trade spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young will move on Monday to secure crossbench and opposition support for an inquiry into the replacement of the 457 class with a pared down system with fewer eligible occupations and shorter visa periods, and which is separated from subsequent citizenship eligibility.

She is confident of obtaining a majority in the Senate to establish the inquiry on the first day of the Budget session because Labor has argued the government's approach is not properly thought through.

However, a successful referral to the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment would need the support of four more crossbench senators.

"If Australia is going to attract the type of expertise, intelligence and experience that we need, we have to engage with our region and the wider international community," Senator Hanson-Young said.

"This inquiry will help to untangle some of the mess that was made when Malcolm Turnbull decided to use the cheap politics of racism and crass anti-migrant sentiment to appease the conservative rump of his own party.

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"To stride confidently into the global future, we will need to attract and retain the best and brightest minds to our innovation, IT and education sectors. That can only be achieved through careful consideration of policy, not sloganeering and jingoistic hyperbole."

The government has rejected suggestions that it has engaged in "jingoism" but rather has acted to strengthen the system and make it more targeted.

An industry source has told Fairfax Media there were concerns from some employers about the possible unintended consequences of the discontinuance of the four-year visa category and its replacement with two new visa classes, covering a reduced number of applicable occupations.

But the government believes it has the balance right and noted that subsequent adjustment to the occupation list will be possible if individual sectors, such as information technology, can show they have been unduly disadvantaged.

Food companies are among those employers expressing the greatest concerns, arguing that the expertise and "job-readiness" of qualified food technologists is higher on the overseas market than is always available in Australia.

Until now, 457 visas lasted four years and holders were able to apply for permanent residency at their conclusion and then serve as little as a 12-month waiting period before applying for full Australian citizenship.

However, the new arrangements will limit most visas – particularly in the lower paid occupations – to two years with a single renewal and no access to permanent residency at the conclusion. Subsequent renewals would be possible but only with employer sponsorship and an application made in the home country.

Of concern to the government is that lower skilled 457 visa-holders have tended to become a net drain on the budget at the end of their visa period due to Medicare and family welfare entitlements.

Fairfax Media understands Labor is likely to back an inquiry.

Ms Hanson Young said the visa crack-down represented knee-jerk politics by a government terrified by the political challenge from Pauline Hanson's One Nation party.

"We should be able to improve our foreign worker visa programs, including 457s, without braying 'Australia First' and waving the nationalistic flag of isolationism," she said.

However, it is understood most employers are satisfied that the new scheme will work better and that most have taken comfort in the fact that its six-monthly review process will ensure that any missing trades groups can be included on the list if there is a legitimate skills shortage that is unable to be met locally.