“…migration should not simply be about bringing in workers in to fill gaps, it should be about helping people put down roots, to join in the life of our country towns and suburbs. To make a home, to raise a family, to join our Australian family – strengthening our economy and our great multicultural society.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Jobs and Skills Summit, 2 September 2022
The rise of temporary migration
Thirty years ago Anthony Albanese’s statement would have restated migration orthodoxy. Australia rejected the ‘guest worker’ model of Germany or Singapore or the Gulf states. Most long-term migrants were permanent residents on arrival, with pathways to citizenship. While over time policy moved from assimilation to multiculturalism, the expectation that most ‘join our Australian family’ was a constant.
But from the mid-1990s temporary multi-year visa migration became more common. Major categories included international students, skilled workers and later temporary graduate visas. Working holiday visas and the long-standing open border with New Zealand also increased non-tourist resident numbers. Their total population peaked at 1.7 million in 2019 but fell to 1.2 million during COVID border closures before starting to recover.
Permanent migration is now typically a two step process. In 2018-19, before COVID, 68 per cent of primary applicants for skilled migration were already in Australia; the 85 per cent in 2020-21 will probably come down with reopened borders. Including partner and family migrants 65 per cent of permanent migrants were onshore applicants in 2020-21.
The problems of temporary migration
Temporary migrants freely choose Australia, but life is not easy for them. They are vulnerable to exploitation in the labour market. They pay taxes but are ineligible for most government benefits (although from mid-2021 they did get disaster payments.) Temporary migrants could never vote and have had other political rights reduced.Read More »