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July 2011, Volume 18, Number 3

Australia, New Zealand

Australia plans to admit 168,700 immigrants in 2010-11, about the same number as in 2009-10, including 114,000 skilled immigrants and their families and 55,000 family unification immigrants. In addition, 13,750 refugees and asylees are expected.

Australia selects skilled immigrants with a point system that gives priority to foreigners with personal characteristics thought to predict success, such as youth, education and knowledge of English. The point selection system is being modified to give employers more of a say in who receives immigrant visas, since Australian work experience and an Australian job offer increases the number of points.

Australia's migration policy aims to strengthen the economy by admitting foreigners who have skills lacking in Australia. The government is reducing the number of labor-short occupations, which means fewer foreigners will get additional points for skills in labor-short occupations. In July 2010, the Skilled Occupations List was revised to reduce the number of labor-short "occupations in demand" from 400 to 181. Beginning July 1, 2011, a new Skilled Migration Points Test raises the hurdles to foreigners seeking skilled immigrant visas.

Economy. Australia in 2011 has a commodity-driven export boom economy, as prices for its crops and rocks exports, farm and mining commodities, rose on the strength of demand in China and other fast-growing economies. Unemployment dropped below five percent and employers complained of labor shortages, especially in rural areas with mining activities. There are also signs of "Dutch disease," the appreciation of the currency associated with commodity exports that makes it hard for manufacturers to compete.

The government agrees with employers that the economic boom is leading to skill shortages, but is reluctant to increase the number of 457-visas for skilled temporary foreign workers after abuses identified in 2010 led to tighter regulations; about half of the 100,000 foreigners a year who receive 457-work visas wind up settling in Australia. The 457-visa was established in 1996 to provide employers with easy access to skilled foreign workers, and the number of 457-visas issued almost quadrupled in a decade.

For resource (mining) projects worth A$2 billion or more, New Enterprise Migration Agreements (EMAs) that require equal wages and working conditions allow employers to hire skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers in an accelerated process. The workers receive 457 visas.

Asylum. Some 6,900 asylum seekers arrived by boat in 2010; unauthorized arrivals by boat in 2009-10 were almost as high as legal arrivals by air on tourist or work visas that later resulted in requests for asylum. Most "boat people" left from Indonesia and were detained on Christmas Island in Australia's far north.

Successive Australian governments have struggled to deal with asylum seekers who arrive by boat, calling them "queue jumpers." A 2011 plan would have Australia sending up to 800 asylum seekers intercepted at sea to Malaysia for processing and receiving 4,000 recognized refugees in camps in Malaysia. If asylum seekers know they will end up in Malaysia, they may not set out for Australia.

Media reports suggest that Malaysian authorities sometimes harass persons recognized as refugees by UNHCR who are awaiting resettlement in third countries; Malaysia has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. About 8,000 refugees, mostly Burmese, were resettled from Malaysia in 2010.

Australian TV in 2011 showed a reality TV series, "Go Back to Where You Came From," that had Australians making 25-day journeys that culminated with boat trips from Indonesia to Malaysia.

Australia's population, 22 million in 2010, is projected by the Treasury to grow to 36 million by 2050, with net immigration of 180,000 a year. The so-called "Big Australia" vision has replaced the past populate or perish notion that Australia must have more people because it lies near four billion Asians. However, the lack of water means that about 90 percent of Australians live in three percent of Australia. Net immigration (including the return of Australians abroad) contributes about two-thirds of Australian population growth.

New Zealand. New Zealand issues 45,000 to 50,000 immigrant visas a year. As in Australian and Canada, most immigrants are admitted under a point system that gives preference to young people with education and knowledge of English, and an increasing number of foreigners are being admitted as temporary workers.

New Zealand launched a Recognized Seasonal Employers Scheme (RSE) in 2007 that allows farmers to hire up to 8,000 Pacific Islanders if they cannot find local workers to fill seasonal jobs. New Zealand farm employers can recruit Pacific Island workers directly using recruitment agents or select workers from lists prepared by local governments. (www.immigration.govt.nz/community/stream/employ/rse)

The Federated Farmers/Rabobank Farm Employee Remuneration Report for 2010 reported that farm workers earned an average NZ$45,400 ($35,700) in 2010, and the average total package value (wages and benefits) was NZ$49,400. Average hourly earnings for entry-level workers were NZ$17 ($13.40) an hour.