THE federal government must strike three separate deals to sign-off on its Malaysia refugee swap before the end of next week.
Although the deal between Malaysia and Australia has been finalised, sources said lawyers for the International Organisation for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were examining yesterday two side deals between the agencies and Australia.
The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, attributed a ''very significant reduction'' in boat arrivals to the announcement of the refugee swap, which is yet to be signed.
''I think it's inarguable that we've seen a reduction in the number of boats this year and a reduction since the announcement of the Malaysia arrangement,'' he said.
Although there would be more boat arrivals, Mr Bowen said the Malaysia policy had caused ''a change to the dynamic completely''.
The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said Mr Bowen shouldn't count his chickens yet.
An international source said it was expected the official signing between Malaysia and Australia would be held in Malaysia before the end of next week and the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
After a two-month negotiation, Mr Bowen said only that he was ''looking forward to being able to say more … in the not too distant future''.
Separately, the federal government announced changes yesterday to make it easier for companies in Perth to hire migrant workers, by classifying the boom city as a ''regional area'' for visa purposes.
The federal government had earlier announced in the budget that overseas workers hired on temporary 457 visas could be offered the carrot of permanent residency if they were sponsored to work in a regional town.
A report by the Monash University academic Bob Birrell has criticised the 457 visa scheme and called for lower skilled migration levels to cities in particular. Mr Bowen said yesterday: ''There will not be enough Australian workers to get the job done.''
Demand-driven migration was delivering workers to where they were needed in Western Australia and Queensland, he said.
]Immigration would not be allowed to become ''the easy default option'' for hiring, because this would drive down wages and English requirements had been toughened.
Under the refugee swap, up to 800 asylum seekers will be sent to Malaysia in exchange for Australia accepting 4000 refugees. More than 400 who have arrived in the interim will be processed in another country.