SYDNEY // Australia is to open its doors to about 300,000 migrants next year as part of a plan to address a chronic lack of workers as the country's immigration intake reaches its highest level in more than 60 years. An army of temporary and permanent settlers will be granted visas as the government in Canberra seeks to sustain 15 years of economic growth.
There are three major strands to Australia's migration programme: skilled, family reunion and humanitarian. Ray Turner, a specialist immigration lawyer in Sydney, said the system had been weighted heavily in favour of qualified migrants. "Certainly the skills programme is being used as an economic tool. I've been involved in this business for 20 years, and it certainly has been the case in that time that there's been an economic focus on our migration programme," he said.
"Australia has a very targeted programme of permanent residents. We're looking for people under 45 years of age who speak good English and have professional skills. Much the same can be said of our temporary programme. "They fit into the following categories: accountants, engineers, certain computer professionals, most health care workers and most trade people." Hairdressers, interpreters and veterinarians are also in demand.
Australia is competing for talented migrants with such other countries as the United States, Canada and New Zealand. They operate like large corporations, recruiting workers they need and rejecting those they do not. "We have a points system," Mr Turner said. "There is a pass mark of 120 points for independent migrants. You get points for your skill, age, English ability and years of experience in your occupation."
Modern Australia has been built on waves of migration. Since 1945, more than 6.5 million settlers have arrived, including refugees. The end of the Second World War saw the start of a mass movement of people that would transform Australia from a quiet colonial backwater to a dynamic multicultural hub. In those postwar years the population stood at eight million and was soon swollen by legions of British migrants tempted by visions of an optimistic new life in the sun.
At the same time, other Europeans began to step ashore, bringing a host of different languages and customs. The ebullience of Greek and Italian newcomers has helped shape Australia's boisterous national character. Today one-quarter of all Australians were born overseas, and the population of 21 million people is drawn from more than 180 countries and more than 200 languages are spoken. "It is very diverse, and people from right across the globe are here," said Selvaraj Velayutham from the department of sociology at Sydney's Macquarie University. "There was that flow of Italians, Greeks, Lebanese and Vietnamese over the years due to certain political situations in those countries.
"It has always been a challenge, but multiculturalism not only as a policy but as a lived experience is part of Australia's cultural make-up and that gives everybody a place in society. They can come and become Australians and retain their own culture." Although Australia's melting pot may occasionally boil over, Mr Velayutham said he believed multiculturalism had been a success. "There have been incidents, but on the whole I think social cohesion is well established and flashes of instability is largely driven by a lack of understanding of cultural differences and by fear as well, particularly around Muslim people post-September the 11th."
Traditionally, migration to Australia has been dominated by the British and New Zealanders, but increasingly, skilled workers from India and China are making their presence felt. As a former British penal colony, Australia still retains very close ties to the Mother Country thanks to a cultural proximity that exists between both countries. "It wasn't that big a wrench leaving the UK," said Pauline Calder, 37, a pharmacist from Scotland, who emigrated to Sydney in 2006. "It's always been a childhood dream of mine. We came on holiday before to see what it was like and, of course, loved it. Moving has been absolutely the right decision."
Many migrants, however, do return home. Sally, whose citizenship application is pending and requested use of a pseudonym, is 28, from London and about to pack her bags and leave Australia after five years. "I miss my friends and my family in the UK. I certainly don't miss the weather, but I'm going back hopefully in October." Mr Turner said he believed Australia would always have a special magnetism for migrants looking for a fresh start.
"I think it's the greatest country in the world. I give seminars overseas to people, and I tell them that a third of Australia is in the tropics, we have snowfields, deserts and rainforests. Anything you want Australia can provide, plus we are one of the freest countries in the world." @Email:email@example.com