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October 2012, Volume 19, Number 4

Australia, New Zealand

Australia in August 2012 reverted to the previous Pacific Solution to deal with asylum seekers who arrive by boat from Indonesia. Afghanis, Sri Lankans, and Iranians fly to Indonesia and find fishing boats to take them to Australia's Christmas Island, which is closer to Indonesia than to the Australian mainland.

A thousand asylum seekers a month arrived by boat in the first eight months of 2012. Of the almost 5,000 detained at the end of May 2012, over 40 percent were Afghanis, 15 percent were Sri Lankans and 10 percent were Iranians.

The ruling Labor Party government in August 2012 won the support of the opposition Liberal Party to re-open immigration detention centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island for those arriving by boat from Indonesia. This so-called Pacific Solution was condemned by the Labor Party when it came to power in 2007, but was reinstated in 2012 when the number of boat people arrivals topped 7,500. The government also increased the number of refugees it resettles each year from 13,700 to 20,000.

Some of the Sri Lankans on Christmas Island asked to be returned to Sri Lanka rather than be sent to Nauru.

India is now Australia's leading source of migrants, surpassing Britain and China. In 2011-12 permanent migration from India reached 29,018 for 15.7 percent of the total. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen reported that seven of the top 10 leading source countries are Asian. In addition to China and India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam account for most of Australia's immigrants.

Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill A$9.5 billion iron ore project in August 2012 began to recruit 8,000 workers, including up to 1,700 migrants, under the first enterprise migration agreement that fast-tracks government approval to hire migrants for major projects.

Australia tracks entrants and exits, and reported in October 2012 that about 20,000 of the 4.8 million temporary foreign visitors overstayed their visas in 2011-12. The government said that most of the overstays were brief, often only a few days, and that many were innocent mistakes.

The government is considering amendments to the Migration Amendment (Employer Sanctions) Act of 2007 to expand joint liability in cases where unauthorized workers are brought to firms by contractors or labor suppliers. The government says that "sham contracting" allows firms to benefit from the work of unauthorized foreigners and escape penalties, which fall on risk-absorbing intermediaries. The maximum penalties for employing unauthorized workers are two years in prison, with up to five years for aggravated offenses that involve exploitation of workers.

New Zealand. New Zealand Minister of Immigration Nathan Guy in August 2012 emphasized the contributions of immigrants to New Zealand's economy, noting that hundreds of immigrant workers would be involved in rebuilding Christchurch, which was damaged in an earthquake in February 2011. In another bid to boost the Christchurch-area economy, the government will allow foreign students enrolled in higher education institutions in the area to work up to 20 hours a week.

Many foreign students are organized into crews to work picking fruit for less than the NZ$13.50 an hour minimum wage. In most cases, established immigrants hire their countrymen who are in New Zealand on temporary visas, with Indian contractors hiring Indian students and Chinese hiring Chinese.