27 June 2016

Even Australia’s borders aren’t water tight


The issue of migration was at the forefront of the Brexit debate. The British labour market is relatively easy to break into for EU citizens, thus depressing the wages of the native Britons, and Leavers have made clear that this was a real concern for the majority of British people.

There have been calls for the United Kingdom to embrace tighter migration controls. Could the Australian system be, as the Brexit campaigners suggest, the “solution” for immigration policy? Australia implements a points-test system based on an immigrant’s age, English proficiency, employment experience and educational qualifications. Ultimately, the system is designed to narrow down migrants to those who are highly skilled in key occupations that are in high demand in Australia.

If the UK were ever to utilise the Australian system for controlling immigration, work permits would be issued to fill skills gaps in the job market. EU workers, who currently have the right to live and work in the UK with no restrictions, would face the same points-based system and hurdles as non-EU migrants.

However the UK should be warned that not even the strictest point-based system can resolve the migration issues.

Australians themselves are struggling to maintain the rate of immigration despite their highly regulated policy. There are many immigrants who have found loopholes into the country through fraudulent practices.  Investigations revealed thousands of skilled migrant applicants had submitted forged employment qualifications and, in more extreme cases, counterfeit degrees from Australian universities.

This issue is clear not a central priority for the Australian government. These practices are continuing, as hardly any extra funding has been allocated to the Australian Federal Police, or to anti-corruption bodies to investigate visa-related fraud.

The Brexit vote in the UK may have shocked Australian politicians into action. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced that Australia will introduce new immigration deals to shield the country from the anger and dismay that has led to such division in Britain. He warned there are challenges resulting from the disintegration of the EU, but seemed to understand why Britain voted as it did. Turnbull also emphasised that the increasing number of immigrants entering the labour market was leading to a shortage of jobs for native Australians, in similar fashion to the UK.

Whether or not the Australian points-test system should be implemented in UK’s migration program is not entirely clear – Australians themselves are struggling to contain their immigration rate. It seems the perfect solution does not exist, but all countries should be wary of seeking quick and easy solutions.

Ilma Amin is a Mannkal Foundation scholar based in Australia.