09 February 2005

Australian immigration system blueprint for tougher British controls

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Australia's points-based immigration system, now the model for tougher new immigration controls proposed by Britain, was introduced in 1979, a decade after immigration peaked under a post-war policy aimed at increasing the labour force.

Since then, officials say, almost three million people have arrived here mostly under the skilled migration program -- half the total of six million who have landed since the end of World War II, helping boost Australia's population from 7.0 million in 1945 to more than 20 million now.

The non-discriminatory program gives policymakers control over the make-up of the migrant intake, recently increased by some 20,000 a year to 130,000, including 13,000 under the humanitarian program.

"Australia has a non-discriminatory immigration policy, which means that anyone from any country can apply to migrate, regardless of their ethnic origin, gender, race or religion," the immigration department states in its website.

"Migration to Australia is dependent on the applicant's ability to meet the migration criteria of the day, which are established to meet Australia's national interest and needs."

Often criticised for its tough refugee policies, Australia has given permanent residence to 600,000 refugees since 1945, which the government proudly boasts is among the highest rate on a pro rata basis in the world.

Others, judged to be illegal immigrants, have been deported after exhausting the legal appeals process been upbeld by the highest courts in the land.

Canberra's policy of mandatory detention for incoming boat people was introduced by a Labor government in the early 1990s, but toughened by Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government as a key policy issue which helped him win the 2001 election.

The policy successfully stemmed the flow of boat people by diverting unauthorised arrivals to grim offshore detention camps for processing.

Howard's government had earlier cut back on the family reunion immigration claiming it was being widely abused, throwing the focus once again back on skilled immigration from English-speaking source countries, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and India.

Migrants from traditional English-speaking nations are now accounting for more than half the country's annual intake, compared to just 37 percent when Howard's conservative government took office.

The composition of the intake changed over the years, with the majority coming initially predominantly from Britain and Ireland, then from other European countries, and in the 1970s from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

Last year, for the first time since Howard's government came to power in 1996, Australia was again recruiting more migrants from the traditional source countries like Britain and Ireland than from South-East Asia.

Under the system, a list of occupations is reviewed every 12 months and allocated points on the basis of what skills are in demand.

A number of large industrial companies recently began recruiting skilled trades people, such as welders and metalworkers, from China.

The migration program for 2004-05 has 120,000 places, with a strong focus on attracting skilled people, particularly those who opt to live in regional areas as opposed to Sydney, the largest city which is facing infrastructure problems and a worsening water shortage because of its expanding population.

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