ICYMI: The changing shape of Australia’s immigration policy | The Guardian

Good overview of the data and some of the issues and debates:

How many and whom? Australia is – again – seized by a debate about migration to this country, its size, shape and character.

“Immigration is a defining feature of Australia’s economic and social life,” the productivity commission argued in a 2016 report that found, on current projections, the country’s population would reach 40 million by the middle of the century.

From the post-war creation of an immigration department and the public catch-cry of “populate or perish”, successive waves of migrants, from different parts of the world, have shaped the country’s character, and influenced its development.

But Australia’s broader migration program has been revolutionised over a generation, and with little consultative public debate.

Australia does not have an explicit population policy or minister – it did briefly between 2010 and 2013 but the annual migration intake is set by government as part of the budget.

“Australia’s immigration policy is its de facto population policy,” the productivity commission says.

Since the prime ministership of John Howard, immigration experts argue, successive governments of both stripes have altered, almost beyond recognition from its post-war origins, the size, emphases, and nature of Australia’s migration program.

In Guardian analysis of migration data from the beginning of Howard’s premiership in 1996, several key trends emerge:

  • A massive increase in Australia’s annual permanent migration intake – from 85,000 in 1996 to 208,000 last year.
  • The emergence of India and China as the largest sources – by far – of migrants.
  • The movement away from family migration to skilled migration targeting national workforce needs. In 1996, family migration was about two-thirds of the program, and skilled one-third. Those ratios are now reversed.
  • A huge increase in temporary migration to Australia – through short-term work visas (the soon-to-be-replaced 457) and international students.
  • The rise of “two-step migration”, where those on short-term visas (usually 457 or student visas) gain permanent residency.
  • The emergence of migration, rather than natural increase (i.e. births) as the primary driver of population increase.

Publicly, the debate about migration rarely remains within the narrow confines of the number or origin of new people seeking to come to Australia to live.

Rather it spills, with increasing vituperativeness, into all areas of public debate: to arguments about road congestion and house prices, to the availability of resources such as land and water, to social debates about integration, religion, and English as Australia’s primary spoken language.

Migration is not just about those who arrive, but runs to national character: who is an Australian and who will become one.

The migration of the past 20 years has shaped the nature of today’s Australia. And today’s migration will create the Australia of the next generation.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/reusable-charts/line-chart/index.html?key=1Y6JLEXk6uzrqC6xmm4H4eW3COqqDWgR42HvtShNUDOg

The number of humanitarian migrants (mainly refugees being resettled) has remained fairly static since 1996, with a jump in 2012 and a trend upwards since 2015.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/aus/2018/mar/immigration/index.html

Over two decades, India and China have emerged as, by far, the largest countries of origin for permanent migrants. The number from India has grown from 3000 migrants in 1996 to more than 40,000 by 2013. Three countries, India, China, and the United Kingdom, provide the majority of migrants to Australia.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/reusable-charts/line-chart/index.html?key=1dONS7Yhk3IIf1uHdiwEwcDkzqe7jzReMN6qg_L3M7tA

Since 1996, the balance of permanent migration has moved from family towards skilled. This has come as successive Australian governments sought to tie migration more closely to the needs of the labour market.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/reusable-charts/line-chart/index.html?key=10lgs02rvbtGNf5R6DdtQNfmlqgBb4XF4aN5vcxtHFys

Temporary migration to Australia has risen sharply over the past two decades, largely through two channels – international students and temporary work visas (457). The number of international students has more than trebled since 1996, from about 113,000 a year, to more than 340,000.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/embed/reusable-charts/line-chart/index.html?key=1mD5ddOiLkUT7n46tB35f94-xWF4CcPLidTm94vNwgBk

Natural increase – babies being born – is no longer the primary driver for Australia’s population increase. Twenty years ago, the split was broadly 60% babies, 40% arriving migrants in increasing Australia’s population. Today, the inverse is true. The number of babies being born has increased, roughly in line with the rise in population, but against a hugely higher level of migration, its proportion has shrunk.

The University of Technology Sydney professor Jock Collins has studied Australia’s migration trends for four decades. He told the Guardian that while Australia was indisputably a country of migration – 28% of Australia’s population was born overseas; of OECD nations only Luxembourg and Switzerland have higher proportions – migration has always been a matter of fierce public debate.

“There has always been an immigration debate, it’s been a major feature of our nation – it’s always been controversial.”

The profound changes to the size and shape of Australia’s migration program, began under the Howard government as he ramped up migration – permanent and temporary – in part as a response to the mining boom and a thriving economy. The trend has continued, both a result of and a factor in, Australia’s continuing economic prosperity.

Previously, Collins argues, debates about migration have been closely linked to economic downturns. Recessions in the early 80s, and then again in the start of the 90s, sparked widespread questioning of the size and nature of Australia’s immigration program.

“Now, economically, we are in this long-running boom, the argument is more about the social and environmental impact, instead of ‘they’re taking our jobs’, it’s about congestion and overcrowding, infrastructure and housing prices,” he says.

Temporary migration has changed the nature of Australia’s migration program, with an increasing number of migrants now coming to Australia on a temporary visa and, via “two-steps” or more, moving towards permanent residency.

“That is the big story of the last two decades of Australian immigration, the massive increase in temporary migration,” Collins says.

“From 1947, the emphasis was settler-migration, bringing in new people to build the nation. But now, temporary migration far outweighs permanent: 700,000 or so temporary visas compared to 200,000 on permanent visas. And this has occurred without much debate or concern, it’s only been with the Fair Work commission investigation into the exploitation of international students and working holiday visa holders, or the problems with 457 visas, that we are having this debate around temporary migrants.”

Debate, not demonisation

Collins believes a debate about Australia’s migration program – how large it is, which migrants are prioritised and why – is a legitimate public policy discussion.

“But I think the thing about the current debate, it becomes disturbing when you attack a particular ethnic group – ‘Chinese immigrants are destroying the housing market’, or talk about so-called ‘African gangs’.

“I think you can have a reasoned debate about population size and accompanying issues, if you don’t attach that to a particular group. If it’s about ‘the Chinese’ or ‘African gangs’, then it becomes emotive and not evidence-based and develops a momentum of itself.”

He says the debate Australia hasn’t yet had is around where immigrants move to. Australia is one of the most urbanised countries on earth, and the vast majority of immigrants settle in cities, overwhelming Melbourne and Sydney.

“But one thing I’ve found that’s interesting: there is a massive appetite in the bush for refugees and also for migration more broadly.

“I studied attitudes towards new immigrants to rural and regional, expecting to see some evidence of, to put it crudely, ‘redneck Australia’. But I found the opposite, the warmth of the welcome was overwhelming, towards both permanent migrants and humanitarian entrants.

“I think this can be a ‘win-win’ situation if it is well managed. Australia can maintain its large migration levels, even increase its humanitarian program, but you can diffuse the urban congestion and address the house price issue, as well as addressing population decline and economic stagnation in rural and regional areas.”

via The changing shape of Australia’s immigration policy | Australia news | The Guardian

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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