In a bid to protect Australian jobs, the number of skilled migrants allowed into the country is being cut. It is the first time in a decade that the intake has been reduced. The decision to cut the number of immigrants comes as pressure mounts on the Australian government after last week's jump in unemployment to 5.2 percent.
Australian Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the skilled migration program, under which foreign workers are recruited to fill gaps in the labor market, will be reduced from 133,500 to 115,000 next year - a reduction of 14 percent.
Bricklayers, plumbers and carpenters are among the occupations affected, as demand for skilled staff falls in Australia's slowing building and construction sectors.
The government has decided to target immigration after the country's jobless figure recently reached a four-year high.
Chris Evans says, with the Australian economy slowing, the number of foreigners allowed into the country must be cut
"Like most other businesses, things have changed dramatically and so the migration program will be adjusted to reflect the realities of the current economic circumstance," Evans explained.
Government officials have said unemployment in Australia is likely to exceed seven percent, later this year. Some economists have far gloomier outlooks, predicting the jobless rate will reach 11 percent, as the country slides towards recession.
Amid such dismal employment prospects, trade unions in Australia are pushing the government in Canberra to make further reductions to the numbers of skilled migrants allowed to settle in the country.
Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, says Australia must limit the influx of foreign workers.
"Certainly, in relation to construction, there is no good reason for the importation of people on temporary guest visas," he said. "In a declining construction market and a serious downturn caused by the global financial crisis, there is no reason for temporary workers to be brought into the construction industry."
The global downturn has brought about a swift reversal of fortunes for Australia's once-mighty economy, which has enjoyed 17 consecutive years of growth, fueled by high demand from China and elsewhere for its mineral exports.
Neighboring New Zealand, which has been in recession for the past year, the government says it had no plans to reduce its annual intake of 45,000 skilled migrants.