Citing the contribution of immigration to higher living standards, income equality, and healthier government budgets, Australia plans to increase its 2002-2003 immigration program for permanent residence to the highest annual intake since the end of the 1980s.
The continuation of immigration is a "central contributor to the economic and social development of Australia," Philip Ruddock, minister for immigration and multicultural and indigenous affairs, said in a press statement on the plan.
Along with the increase in total numbers, the plan also reshuffles the mix of entrants in favor of skilled immigrants. Much of the overall growth from 93,000 to 100-110,000 people will be in the skilled migration program, which opens doors to certain migrants and their immediate families based on tests that award points in areas such as age, knowledge of English, and work experience in certain skilled occupations.
According to Ruddock, skilled independent immigrants are now younger, have better English skills, and hold qualifications in areas where the labor market is witnessing a shortage of qualified workers. In one example of targeting immigrants with particular skills, the new plan focuses on adding to Australia's shrinking pool of registered nurses. Skilled independent immigrants, admitted solely on the basis of employable attributes, make up the largest proportion of Australia's skilled migration program, accounting for 53 percent of the skill quota in 2002-2003.
Under the plan, the skilled migration intake will increase from 57.5 to 58 percent of the total non-humanitarian program. Even the 0.5 percent increase has been viewed as significant. The biggest increase (1.5 percent) will be in the "Skilled-Australian Sponsored" category, which provides for siblings, nieces, nephews, non-dependent children, working-aged parents, grandchildren, and first cousins who meet skill requirements.
Since the mid-1980s, when Australia began to restructure its economy to meet the challenges of globalization, there has been a greater focus on developing high value-added sectors such as banking and insurance, as well as on building a knowledge-based economy. As a result, the government has reoriented its migration policy towards admitting highly skilled workers, whether permanent or temporary.
Along with the expansion of the skilled migration program, family reunion numbers will increase slightly. The exception is places for parents, which will fall from 560 to 500, in a change that looks likely to lengthen an already long waiting list. However, the government is offering to make 4,000 extra places available for parents if opposition parties abandon their objections to legislation allowing parents' health and welfare costs to be covered by themselves and their Australian sponsors. In the last few years, the government has restricted the entry of retired persons, arguing that they will place an additional burden on welfare provision and health care.
Besides targeting Australia's labor needs, the plan also takes aim at what government officials regard as an unhealthy and increasing concentration of immigrants in cities such as Sydney, which receives nearly 40 percent of all arrivals, and Melbourne. The New South Wales government is concerned that immigration is straining the physical infrastructure and driving up the cost of education and health services that are provided by the state governments.
Consequently, the government is encouraging immigration by foreign students enrolled in rural or country universities. As part of the new plan, officials who administer the immigrant admissions test will grant five "bonus points" to overseas students who have studied and lived for at least two years at the campus of an educational institution in regional Australia. Since nearly half of all the prospective immigrants have obtained their educational qualifications in Australia, this could affect a large number of entrants by encouraging these students to enrol, not in the major capital city universities, but in the typically less prestigious country universities. Since overseas students pay full fees to the institution where they are studying, the program will also redirect some revenue away from the major city universities and into the rural universities.
In contrast with the anticipated expansion of places for skilled immigrants, no increase is proposed in the humanitarian program that serves UN convention refugees and people with links to Australia stuck in refugee-like situations.
The humanitarian program will remain at its decade-long level of 12,000 slots. Six thousand places will be used for off-shore applicants in refugee-like situations, with 2,000 set aside for possible onshore applications. Since 1998-1999, not all humanitarian slots have been used. Those unallocated this year are available for use next year.
Priority for the humanitarian places will continue to be given to applicants from Africa, the Middle East, and South West Asia.