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Australia to scrap visas for skilled foreigners as leader Turnbull bids to ‘put Australians first’

Malcolm Turnbull delivers his National Press Club address on February 1, 2017 in Canberra, Australia.
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Malcolm Turnbull delivers his National Press Club address on February 1, 2017 in Canberra, Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Tuesday plans to terminate the 457 visa program which permits skilled migrants to work in the country for up to four years.

"We're putting jobs first. We're putting Australians first … We are an immigration nation but the fact remains - Australian workers must have priority for Australian jobs," declared the prime minister in a video posted on Facebook.

"We'll no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians," Turnbull added.

The government simultaneously unveiled plans for a replacement program which it claims will permit Australian companies to continue to "grow and invest" but which will better address acute skills shortages.

Turnbull asserted that the redesigned scheme - of which further details will be revealed in the near future - has been "specifically designed to recruit the best and the brightest in the national interest" and noted that it would introduce requirements for previous work experience, better English language proficiency and mandatory labor market testing.

The announcement prompted a violent backlash on Twitter from opposition politicians and commentators alike who fired a disparate litany of abuse at the proposal.

"We'll seriously consider any proposal once the Government releases all the details – but right now we're concerned that Mr Turnbull is just rebadging the same visa system with the same dodgy loopholes. That isn't good enough" said Brendan O'Connor, the main opposition party's shadow minister for employment and workplace relations, in an official statement on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, looking at the announcement from a different angle, Annie Parker, chief executive officer (CEO) of Sydney startup accelerator hub Lighthouse, signaled her concerns over the implications for access to innovation.

"I came to Australia on a 457 visa. I've helped create a lot of jobs & new skills for the country," tweeted the tech entrepreneur, amid a series of her own tweets and retweets regarding the potential for talent to be lost to the country due to the new legislation.

The Australian government's news came within hours of U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that he is set to sign an executive order on Tuesday to overhaul a temporary visa program for foreign workers.

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