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457 visa workers forced to pay for free education in WA
Despite paying taxes like Australian workers, the West Australian government plans to force 457 visa holders to pay thousands of dollars for schools that are free to everyone else, as Mignon Stewart reports.

Government schools provide free education for the children of Australia, except for those of foreign nationals living and working in some parts of the country on temporary visas.

The 457 visa allows skilled workers to come to Australia to fill shortages in the job market for up to four years.

But despite paying taxes like Australian workers, the West Australian Government wants to force 457 visa holders to pay thousands of dollars for schools that are free to everyone else.

Mignon Stewart reports.
Transcript
MIGNON STEWART, REPORTER: For the Flanagans, Australia was the land of hope, a new start for a big family suffering badly with the recession in Ireland. In February, they packed their bags and moved to the lucky country.

The Flanagans chose Perth in Western Australia to set up their new lives.

The WA Government was actively recruiting migrants in Ireland, encouraging them to apply for the temporary skilled 457 migration visas, which means they can work in Australia for up to four years.

It was sold as a win win. Families would get a fresh, prosperous start Down Under, while the government would get workers keen to do jobs difficult to fill locally.

CIARA FLANAGAN, 457 VISA HOLDER: It was a little bit hard, but it was well worth it. The kids have settled in fabulously at school. They're loving it. It's an excellent school. So it's worked out quite well so far.

MIGNON STEWART: But last month, the WA Treasurer dropped a bombshell, announcing that from next year the cost for 457 visa holders to send each child to a state school would increase from $60 a year to $4,000 a year.

The State Government has since watered down the plan after a backlash. The fees will now be introduced in 2015, and only the first child would be charged the full $4,000, while for subsequent children it'll cost $2,000 per school year.

COLIN BARNETT, WEST AUSTRALIAN PREMIER: I think that's manageable, and reflects only about a third of the cost to the taxpayer of actually educating these children.

MIGNON STEWART: The Flanagans don't agree, and say it's still a lot of money for the basic right of an education.

CIARA FLANAGAN: We have managed quite well. We've done our budget and we've been getting on very well. But I have four in the public school system and it's just not doable for us.

It's crazy and I think it's very unfair.

MIGNON STEWART: But the government says the fee is necessary with a record growth in the number of students, driven by a local baby boom last decade, and now a big rise in the number of migrants moving to Western Australia; many of those on 457s and with children.

And the number of those kids attending state schools has risen from just 300 in 2005 to almost 9,000 this year.

The issue of 457 visas in Australia has been a controversial one. In March, the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, announced a crackdown on the scheme, claiming it was being abused.

JULIA GILLARD, FMR AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER (March 2013): To stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back.

MIGNON STEWART: There has also been anti 457 sentiment within some communities in Australia, with a number of people in WA agreeing that 457s should be charged to use the state school system.

6PR882 NEWS TALK COMMENT (subtitled): …paying school fees for 457 vias must be made mandatory. They are the one who are taking local jobs, so they should go back where they came from if they do not wish to pay this fee…

MIGNON STEWART: The West Australian Premier, however, says he understands why 457 visa holders are angry, but says education costs, and the fee will raise more than $60 million over the next four years.

But 457 visa holders argue they pay tax and are unable to receive any benefits like Australia's health care system, Medicare, or childcare rebates.

Alan Eduliantes arrived from the Philippines two years ago and is one of those affected. He works in an abattoir in Harvey, 100km south of Perth. The meatworker and others in his community are shocked they'll have are to pay so much for their kids' education.

ALAN EDULIANTES, 457 VISA HOLDER: Some of my friends are thinking of sending their children back to the Philippines to continue their studies because it would be too much for them to pay $4,000 a year, and some are even contemplating to go to other states.

MIGNON STEWART: The Filipino community in WA is protesting against the charge.

Carmelita Baltazar, from the migrant advocate group Migrante, says this kind of policy could put migrants off coming to Australia.

CARMELITA BALTAZAR, MIGRANTE: We need the skilled migrants who are, you know, to help build or economy, and they are doing so much for our community, our society, for the economic improvement of Australia.

MIGNON STEWART: Two other governments also charge 457s for education. In New South Wales it can cost up to $5,500, while in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory), it can reach almost $14,000.

As for the Flanagans, the changes in WA still mean a school bill of $10,000 a year, and their options are limited.

CIARA FLANAGAN: The kids have settled in fabulously and it is a beautiful country and we are very happy here, but, you know, we have to eat as well.
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