An industry body representing maritime workers in Australia has called for the 457 visa programme to be overhauled.

The 457 visa, which allows people from overseas to work in Australia for up to four years is one of the most controversial visa programmes in the country.

All kinds of industries claim that it means that large companies can employ people from overseas more cheaply than Australians despite so called checks being in place for them to seek employees at home first.

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The latest is Maritime Industry Australia which wants high level jobs like ships masters and ships engineers taken off the Government's skilled shortage list, meaning foreign workers can be hired under the 457 system.

According to the most recent figures from the Department of Immigration, there are hundreds of foreign workers employed in the maritime industry under the 457 visa programme.

According to MIA the inclusion of seafaring jobs on the skilled shortage list made sense during the commodities boom, but not today when a large number of people in the sector were unemployed.

The 457 system requires employers to try the local job market before hiring overseas workers, but law lecturer at the University of Adelaide Dr Joanna Howe said it is poorly policed.

"There is currently no proper mechanism, no robust mechanism for identifying a skill shortage and for ensuring that where a foreign worker is coming in, they're not taking a job away from a local worker," she explained.

There is also concern that under the national shipping regime foreign vessels can obtain temporary licences to operate in Australian waters without needing to pay their workers Australian wages.

There are moves to change this so that a foreign ship operating for a certain number of days would need to employ a certain number of Australian staff and those on visas would need to be paid the same amount as an Australian employee.