Skip to navigation

Skip to main content


January 2012, Volume 19, Number 1

Australia: Asylum, Immigration

Australia continues to struggle with foreigners arriving by boat from Indonesia and seeking asylum. 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. However, the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat rose, reaching 6,535 in 2010. Labor in 2010 proposed sending 800 asylum boat arrivals to Malaysia for processing and in turn resettling 4,000 UNHCR-recognized refugees in Malaysia, but Australia's highest court in September 2011 struck down the Australia-Malaysia MOU because Malaysia has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

In response, the Labor government in November 2011 announced that foreigners who arrived in Australia by boat would receive "bridging visas" that allow them to live and work in Australia while their applications for asylum are processed. Iranians surpassed Afghans and Iraqis as the top nationality arriving by boat from Indonesia in 2011. Since Iran does not accept the involuntary return of its citizens who have sought asylum elsewhere, the number of Iranians seeking asylum in Australia is expected to increase.

Immigration. Australia planned to admit 168,700 immigrants in 2010-11, about the same as in previous years (another 15,000 foreigners a year arrive as refugees and asylum seekers). Two-thirds of immigrants to Australia arrive via the skill stream, meaning that someone in the household obtained enough points for knowledge of English, education and work experience in shortage occupations. Would-be immigrants can also obtain points if they promise to settle in regional (rural) Australia.

In 2010-11, some 113,725 immigrant visas were issued under the priority program for skilled immigrants, and 90,120 so-called 457 visas were issued to temporary foreign workers with skills.

In recent years, about 20 percent of immigrants to Australia were born in New Zealand, 14 percent in the UK, and 10 percent each born in India and China. Over half of the new arrivals settled in New South Wales, anchored by Sydney, and Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne. Australia, with 23 million residents in 2012, gets half of its annual population increase from immigration.

Beginning in July 2012, foreigners wishing to immigrate to Australia as skilled workers must submit an initial Expression of Interest via the internet. After evaluation, they may be invited to submit an application for an immigrant visa. The Skilled Migrant Selection Register or SkillSelect aims to expedite the processing of applications from skilled foreigners.