09 May 2012

Australian immigration becomes billion dollar problem

In Australia's federal budget, released yesterday, the cost of the ongoing Australian immigration problem rose to over AU$1 billion (£625 million) as boats carrying asylum seekers continue to cause political problems.

Australian immigration

The Australian immigration issue is expected to cost the Australian taxpayers over AU$1 billion (£625 million).

The cost of managing asylum seekers had been predicted to fall in last year's problems, however, the government's failed solution to the Australian immigration issue, the Malaysia Solution, announced just weeks before the 2011 budget has had a significant impact on the budget's details.

The Malaysia Solution, a people swap deal with Malaysia which was struck down in the High Court last year, had expected to save AU$366 million (£228 million) by 2014-15 but as the Australian government is yet to reach a suitable compromise with the opposing Coalition, the cost of managing asylum seekers arriving on boats continues to rise.

"Managing boat arrivals is very expensive," said Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. "It was expensive under the previous government and it's expensive now."

The budget predicted that, without a viable solution to the issue, the cost of asylum seekers to the Australian taxpayer would continue to rise to almost AU$3.5 billion (£2.2 billion) by 2015-16.

There are currently over 3,700 asylum seekers in detention in Australia as well as almost 1,500 who have been granted an Australia visa who are currently living in community detention, figures Mr Bowen blamed on the Coalition and its leader Tony Abbott's reluctance to negotiate a solution.

"With the announcement of the Malaysia arrangement last year, we saw boat arrival numbers drop.

"Due to the relentless negativity of Tony Abbott and the Coalition, there is no deterrent in place to prevent those dangerous journeys."

While the political argument continues to spiral out of control, the budget included measures to tackle asylum seeking boats and lessen the risk of another disaster which saw over 200 asylum seekers drown in December. Over AU$30 million (£18.75 million) will be provided to Customs and Border Protection for two new boats, one of which will be stationed at Ashmore Reef, close to where many asylum seeking boats are intercepted.

A further AU$11 million (£6.9 million) will be provided to law enforcement agencies to tackle people smuggling operations both in Australia and abroad.

Pilot programmes were also tentatively announced in the budget which will help manage the growing number of asylum seekers already in Australia include one announced by Mr Bowen which will allow Australians to sponsor refugees' claims for asylum, another which will allow asylum seekers wishing to return to their home countries to leave Australia and a final programme intended to teach asylum seekers English.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge their applications with the Australian Embassy.

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