Australia is set to protect its workers during the looming recession by slashing its intake of skilled migrants for the first time in a decade. The 14% cut in immigration comes on a wave of concern that skilled foreign workers could stoke resentment by taking jobs at a time of rising unemployment. One expert slammed the situation as 'madness' after mine workers in Queensland and Western Australia found that their positions were being filled by foreign workers. Immigration Minister Chris Evans, who removed hairdressers and cooks from Australia's critical occupation shortage list in Christmas 2008, said he was now also deleting foreign bricklayers, plumbers, carpenters and electricians from the list that guides skilled migration intake. Further cuts were likely in the May 2009 budget, he said, leaving only health occupations, engineering and information technology skills as needed skills. 'What we'll look to do is run a smaller program and keep the capacity to make sure we can bring in any labour we might need as the year develops,' Evans said. A recession is looming in the country, with the center-left government expecting unemployment to reach 7%t midway through 2010. Australia is also due to hold an election in late 2010. Immigration has been a charged issue in past polls, particularly following economic downturn. A leading migration expert, former government official Bob Kinnaird, said record recent migrant arrivals in a fast shrinking job market were leading to 'highly combustible' conditions in regional areas, where many new arrivals had settled. In Queensland and Western Australia retrenched mine workers returning to their home towns found that jobs there had been filled by foreign workers, sparking resentment, Kinnaird said. 'You could say in those last few months that madness has reigned,' he said. The ruling Labor Party, with its roots in the workers' movement, should have acted sooner to cut migration as economic conditions cooled to lance any voter backlash and ease tensions in critical country voting areas, he said.
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Australia cuts migrant job intake