Why Has Australia Fallen Out of Love With Immigration?

A reminder just how different Australia is to Canada, despite some similarities in terms of more opposition in rural areas with relatively few immigrants compared to urban centres. And very few Canadian immigration critics have focussed on crowding issues (save perhaps Grubel) and more on values or irregular migration:

Five days after 50 Muslims in New Zealand were killed in an attack attributed to an Australian white supremacist, Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, unveiled a plan he said would address a fundamental challenge to the nation.

But it was not a proposal to combat hate groups and Islamophobia. It was a cut to immigration.

The government’s plan, which had been in the works for months, is a potential turning point for a nation that has been shaped by newcomers since its days as a British penal colony and that has presented itself in recent years as a model of how immigration, properly managed, can strengthen a country.

Now, amid a global backlash against immigration that has upended politics in the United States, Britain and much of Europe, even Australia is reversing course, turning away from a policy of welcoming skilled foreigners that helped fuel decades of economic growth — and transformed a nation once closed to nonwhite immigrants into a multicultural society.

Mr. Morrison presented the move as a reaction to crowding in the nation’s largest cities, which has led to congested commutes and costlier housing. “This plan is about protecting the quality of life of Australians right across our country,” he said.

Such concerns are widespread as views in the country have turned sharply against population growth over the past year. There is worry, though, that these “quality-of-life” complaints have been amplified by — or perhaps have masked — a deeper ambivalence about a new wave of non-European immigration, especially from Muslim countries, along with Africa and Asia.

There’s no denying the rapid pace of change, nor its benefits. Australia’s population has grown by nearly 40 percent, from 18 million to 25 million, since the 1990s, and economists argue that the nation’s record-breaking 27 years without a recession would have been impossible if not for surging immigration.

Most of the 4.7 million foreigners who have arrived since 1980 have been skilled migrants, especially since 2004, when an average of more than 350,000 students and skilled workers arrived each year, according to government figures.

According to the 2016 census, more than one in four Australians were born overseas, compared to 13.7 percent of the population in the United States and 14 percent in Britain. And six out of the top 10 source countries are now in Asia, with immigrants from China (509,558 people) and India (455,385) leading the way.

Many Australians say it is time for these trends to end. In one recent poll, more than two-thirds said their country no longer needed more people. As recently as 2010, a majority of Australians disagreed with that statement.

Mr. Morrison and his Liberal Party — which has often used anti-immigrant sentiment to stir its conservative base — clearly believe that immigration will be a winning issue for them in the national election on May 18.

The government has slowed visa approvals, and plans to cut annual immigration by 30,000 people, to 160,000 a year, a reduction greater than any since the early 1980s, according to archival data.

Mr. Morrison also plans to shift work visas to steer newcomers outside the big cities, requiring recipients to live in those regions for three years before they can secure permanent residency.

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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