Australia’s Immigration programme suspended, what now?

Australia’s History with Immigration

Australia as we know it is a country built on immigration. The first European Australians migrated to Australia from the UK, as Britain emptied its overcrowded prisons. Over 160,000 prisoners were shipped over to Australia and became the basis of what we know now as Australians. Immigration of any other kind did not begin until 1945, after the second world war. The country was put under a populate or perish plan, meaning they needed to populate the country very quickly or it would not thrive. 

To embark on large infrastructurally based projects, Australia needed specific amounts of engineers, doctors, and other crucial professions. It became a settler immigration country and coaxed its migrants with the promise of competitive pay. And for a while, the numbers were rising. The American stock market crash in 1929 has a domino effect on Australia, which in turn also experienced a recession. This recession led to a decrease in migration but was relatively minor, and Australia quickly recovered. However, in 1991, Australia experienced a massive recession. The unemployment rate rose to 10.8%, and GDP plummeted. This recession was far more challenging for Australia to recover from, and migration suffered dearly. Unfortunately, Australia was also affected by the 2008 GFC recession, which slowed economic growth, and again caused the unemployment rate to rise significantly. 

Between the 1991 and 2008 recessions, multiple schemes were put in place to ensure Australia could survive future recessions. From these schemes, was born the skilled migration programme, enabling and encouraging skilled workers from other countries to live and work in Australia. Of the OECD countries, Australia had the highest immigrant population.  Australia was the landing point for an average of 200.000 migrants a year, from engineers to small business owners and everything in between. Now, the programme has had its numbers cut by the Australian government in a bid to control the coronavirus. The estimated numbers for 2020 went from an all-time high of 270,000 to an all-time low of 30,000.  Even during the global financial crisis of 2008 and the 1991 recession, migration numbers never approached this low level, the previous low being 42,000.

With a slowing economy and a lockdown, does Australia still need Migrant Immigration?

Recently Australia was hit with a second wave of the virus and parts of the country are now in complete lockdown. Victoria is currently the state most strongly affected by the virus. Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, reported that stage three lockdown in Victoria will cost the government 10-12 billion dollars.

To add to the pain, between 200,000 and 400,000 people are estimated to be left jobless, bringing the unemployment in Australia up to 10%. There is now debate as to what should be the first step when lockdown eases. In certain areas, the public has been protesting, advocating for the government to suspend the migrant programme to give Australians the jobs.

Australian Demographer Liza Allen says that because Australia is migrant dependent, giving away the jobs that attract migrants is a bad idea. Migration leads to population growth that, in turn, leads to economic growth. Migrants contribute to the supply and demand chains of the Australian economy, as well as improving the socioeconomics. Australia is a young country, still developing its own culture. Australian culture is a fusion of many countries’ cultures. With one of the most racially diverse populations in the world, it’s not surprising that Australian “culture” is a mix of Europeans and Asian culture. This fusion culture is also what allows so many immigrants to live comfortably.

Because Australia is still a young country, with an economy traditionally strengthened by migrants, the effects of the virus and the travel bans could be extremely detrimental. In an interview with the guardian, Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary of the immigration department, said: “The virus and the drop in net migration will combine to hit us very, very hard.”Many of the most critical jobs in Australian society are outsourced to migrants. These jobs include nurses, secondary school teachers, construction managers, carpenters, and university lecturers. 

What does lockdown mean for Australia’s Unskilled Migrants?

Unskilled migrants are just as affected as skilled migrants. Australia is known to be the landing point for many travellers looking to make some money. The international travel survey reported that an average of 121,000 people travel to Australia on a working holiday visa every year. Backpackers and travellers often come to work on construction sites or as seasonal workers on farms. It is also a popular job for students. Without them being able to enter Australia, essential jobs in the agricultural industry are not getting done. Adding to the problem is the jobseeker money that many Australians are receiving. Due to the coronavirus, the government has doubled the job seeker allowance, making it easier for Australians to actively not look for work in these uncertain times. Farmers are worried by this move, as it means their workforce is dropping faster and faster. Australian Farmer, Brett Simon said he was concerned about the lack of interest in regional jobs from local workers.

“There could be a lot of people from Brisbane coming out 40 minutes and getting full-time work rather than sitting at home getting JobSeeker,”

The closing of borders is also affecting the international students of Australia. Many of the international students came to Australia to take advantage of the system that allows them as students to eventually apply for permanent residency. However, to be eligible, the students need to complete a professional year programme in the year after they complete their studies. 

The border closures also mean a change in the migratory nature of Australians. “We used to do several interstate moves a week, now… its all about people moving from the centre of Melbourne to the suburbs.  Its cheaper, people working from home can have a larger space and with the city’s pleasures largely shut down people are finding their way into the countryside” – Vlad Stoikovich – Melbourne Home removals company HomeMove

Border closure now, unfortunately, means that most students have returned to their home countries. And since there is no knowing when borders will open again, there is no knowing when Australia will see it’s international students return.

The immigration issues will surely affect Australia in the months to come, but perhaps the next few years can be salvaged. It might be better for Australia to slowly open its borders to allow foreign workers back in. This would allow the economy to find a certain stability and ensure Australia does not sink back into another recession.