Australia has been bugged by the immigration issue all the time but recently the issue has almost gone out of hand. How many and whom? Australia is – again – seized by a debate about migration to this country, its size, shape and character. From the post-war creation of an immigration department and the public catch-cry of “populate or perish”, successive waves of migrants, from different parts of the world, have shaped the country’s character, and influenced its development.
But Australia’s broader migration program has been revolutionised over a generation, and with little consultative public debate. The problem lies in Australia does not have an explicit population policy or minister – it did briefly between 2010 and 2013 but the annual migration intake is set by the government as part of the budget. Since the prime ministership of John Howard, immigration experts argue, successive governments of both stripes have altered, almost beyond recognition from its post-war origins, the size, emphases, and nature of Australia’s migration program.
Here’s a Guardian analysis of migration data from the beginning of Howard’s premiership in 1996, several key trends emerge:
- A massive increase in Australia’s annual permanent migration intake – from 85,000 in 1996 to 208,000 last year.
- The emergence of India and China as the largest sources – by far – of migrants.
- The movement away from family migration to skilled migration targeting national workforce needs. In 1996, family migration was about two-thirds of the program, and skilled one-third. Those ratios are now reversed.
- A huge increase in temporary migration to Australia – through short-term work visas (the soon-to-be-replaced 457) and international students.
- The rise of “two-step migration”, where those on short-term visas (usually 457 or student visas) gain permanent residency.
- The emergence of migration, rather than natural increase (i.e. births) as the primary driver of population increase.
Interestingly, the debate about migration rarely remains within the narrow confines of the number or origin of new people seeking to come to Australia to live. In fact, the issue of migration actually spills into all areas of public debate that includes road congestion and house prices, availability of resources such as land and water, social debates about integration, religion, and English as Australia’s primary spoken language. In other context, migration is not just about those who arrive, but runs to national character: who is an Australian and who will become one.
The migration of the past 20 years has shaped the nature of today’s Australia. And today’s migration will create the Australia of the next generation. Well, here’s the statistics of the top 10 countries of origin for permanent migrants to Australia.
Over two decades, India and China have emerged as, by far, the largest countries of origin for permanent migrants.Three countries, India, China, and the United Kingdom, provide the majority of migrants to Australia. One country to note is that Malaysia also constitutes one of the major countries with 4000 people migrating to Australia solely in 2017! Well, the reason behind could be varied, albeit the major would be the difference in living standards and the quality developments in terms of infrastructure and facilities, not to mention the social and cultural factor that also play a part. We could see that the profound changes to the size and shape of Australia’s migration program, began under the Howard government as he ramped up migration – permanent and temporary – in part as a response to the mining boom and a thriving economy. The trend has continued, both a result of and a factor in, Australia’s continuing economic prosperity.
Last but not least, the debate Australia hasn’t yet had is around where immigrants move to. Australia is one of the most urbanised countries on earth, and the vast majority of immigrants settle in cities, overwhelming Melbourne and Sydney. Hence, further migration would lead to a dramatic change in the Australia demographics again, and if you would want to participate in this once-a-lifetime move, the time is now.