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July 2012 Volume 19 Number 3
Australia: Migrants, Asylum
Australia's 2011 census reported that a fourth of the 21.5 million residents were born outside the country. Asians are more than half of the foreigners now arriving in the country, and Mandarin has become the most popular language other than English spoken at home, displacing Italian.<< back
Points. Australia, Canada and New Zealand have well-known points systems to select immigrants. Foreigners wishing to immigrate receive points for youth, knowledge of English, and education credentials and, if they achieve sufficient points, they are offered immigrant visas. This supply-side approach to selecting immigrants is a contrast to the demand-approach in the US, where employers identify the foreigners they want to hire and request immigrant visas from the US government for these particular foreigners.
The University of Melbourne's Lesleyanne Hawthorne says that Australia is shifting from a points selection system to an employer-nominated migration system because more immigrants arrive as temporary workers and later adjust their status to immigrants. In this way, employers are selecting immigrants, albeit first as temporary workers. There were 110,600 temporary skilled arrivals in 2007-08, compared with 108,500 points-tested immigrants.
Employers picked different types of workers than the points system selected. For example, temporary workers adjusting to immigrant status were more likely to be business and sales and marketing professionals, compared to the points-test's accounting, architecture/building, and nursing. Employers selected more migrants from English-speaking countries, while the points test admitted mostly Asians.
The government allowed the $9 billion Roy Hill iron ore project to hire 1,715 foreign workers in May 2012. There are over $250 billion worth of mining and energy projects in Australia, many in remote areas that attract few local workers. Enterprise Migration Agreements allow projects worth more than A$2 billion and with a peak labor force of more than 1,500 workers to obtain foreign workers easily.
Asylum. Australia continues to struggle with foreigners arriving by boat from Indonesia and seeking asylum. In the first six months of 2012, over 5,200 asylum seekers arrived on 72 boats from Indonesia, including 1,700 in June 2012, putting 2012 on track to surpass 2010, when 6,500 asylum seekers arrived. Most of the arrivals are from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
PM Julia Gillard is trying to persuade Indonesia to crack down on Indonesian-based smugglers who offer to take foreigners by boat to Christmas Island. Ex-Prime Minister John Howard won re-election in 2001 in part because of a tough policy on asylum seekers arriving by boat. Under Howard's so-called Pacific Solution, asylum seekers arriving by boat were sent to Pacific Island nations such as Nauru for processing.
The Labor government ended the Pacific Solution in 2007 but, as the number of arrivals by boat increased, Gillard in 2010 proposed that foreigners arriving by boat be sent to Malaysia for processing. In turn, Australia promised to resettle 4,000 UNHCR-recognized refugees who were in Malaysia. However, Australia's highest court struck down the Australia-Malaysia MOU in 2011 because Malaysia has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.
Australia says that Indonesia is cooperating to disrupt people-smuggling operations that take asylum seekers by boat to Australia, but needs to do more. Some said that talk in Australia of re-introducing the Pacific Solution is prompting smugglers to urge foreigners to "go now" to Australia. The leader of the opposition coalition that is expected to oppose Gillard in national elections in 2013 says that boats from Indonesia with asylum seekers should be towed back to Indonesia.
Some smugglers use minors to crew the boats taking asylum seekers to Australia. Indonesia, which calls these minors "victims" of smugglers, opposes the Australian policy of detaining them as smugglers.