Increasingly, the debate over immigration is becoming divided along nativist and globalist lines. Whereas the globalists seek to place the interests of newcomers and outsiders first, the nativists instead aim to prioritize the existing inhabitants of their country.
And should the right focus on championing the needs of the Australian people (in a similar fashion to Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ platform), electoral victories should quickly follow.
“Immigration System is groaning under influx of new migrants”, Judith Sloan of the Australian, 15 November 2016:
One of the underlying factors that influenced the outcome of last week’s US election result was the fundamental clash between globalists and nativists.
A driving outlook of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is based on concern for everyone, including present and future immigrants, as well as faith in international institutions such as the UN. By contrast, the standpoint of the successful Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is that the prime role of government is to protect its legal citizens and to respect and support feelings of patriotism and loyalty to country.
A part of this clash between globalists and nativists takes the form of differing attitudes towards immigration, legal and illegal. Add the stultifying impact of restrictions on free speech associated with the widespread insistence that only politically correct comments can be made — anyone who questions the value of immigration or asks why illegal immigrants are not deported is immediately labelled racist, xenophobic or Islamophobic — and the scene is set for the impact of this clash to play out in the ballot box.
The reality is that there are legitimate questions to ask about US immigration.
• Why are there are 11 million illegal — the PC term is undocumented — immigrants in the US?
• Why are so few of these illegal immigrants deported as the law provides?
• Why is it that a rising share of illegal immigrants has lived in the US for more than a decade?
• Why does Silicon Valley rely so heavily on the H-1B program (the equivalent of our 457 visa program) for its workforce?
• What is the impact of immigration on local workers?
When it came to the policy prescriptions being offered up by the two candidates, they were diametrically opposed. Clinton proposed a series of measures, including more executive actions, to allow illegal immigrants and their children to stay on in the US as well as obtain benefits available only to citizens and permanent residents.
Trump proposed to cancel all the existing executive actions that have deferred the deportation of illegal immigrants as well as new measures — most notably the construction of a wall on the Mexico-US border — to deter the entry of new ones. (Most illegal immigrants in the US are Mexican.) Until fail-safe vetting mechanisms are available, he also suggested a moratorium on new immigrants from countries with high proportions of Muslim residents.
It is tempting to describe Australia’s immigration policy as striking an appropriate balance between the nativist and globalist perspectives. By and large, illegal immigrant numbers are kept to a minimum and the permanent immigration program (presently with an annual intake of 190,000) is skewed towards those with skills.
The formal humanitarian program caters for asylum-seekers, with the numbers kept at relatively modest levels. The annual intake is 13,750, rising to 18,750 in 2018-19. The intake of 12,000 refugees from Syria also has been announced.
But in addition to these permanent immigrants, the number of temporary entrants to Australia has soared. In 2004-05, for instance, there were 49,000 457 visa entrants. In 2014-15, the number was 96,000, having peaked the previous year at 126,000.
The number of working holiday-makers also has skyrocketed, more than doubling in the decade ending 2014-15. There were 226,000 working holiday entrants in 2014-15. The number of international students rose by more than 70 per cent between 2004-05 and 2014-15, reaching 300,000 in the latter year.
All these temporary migrant categories are uncapped; as long as the applicant meets the conditions of the visa, then entry is granted. We are at the point that the number of new temporary immigrants is swamping the number of permanent entrants. But bear in mind that a high proportion of temporary immigrants apply to become permanent residents in due course.
So what are the problems with our immigration program? They can be gauged only by moving away from the high-level descriptors and digging deeper by analysing the component parts.
Take the employer-sponsored category of the skill permanent intake. There are 650 occupations listed on the Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List — many more than on the Skilled Occupation List used for the independent skill category — and the applicants need only minimal English proficiency. While it is true that the primary applicants under the skill category do well in the labour market, this is not so true of the secondary applicants who have the right to permanent residence as well.
International students who have graduated are allowed to stay in Australia with full work rights for considerable periods. Increasingly, these graduates are using the family stream to secure permanent residence, rather than the skill category.
When we look at the occupations of those who enter under the 457 visa category, we note that cook and cafe/restaurant manager are in the top three occupations. In fact, accommodation and food services is the industry with the largest percentage of 457 visa holders. Does anyone really think that cook and cafe/restaurant manager are occupations that can’t be filled by locals?
And when it comes to the labour market experience and welfare dependency of those holding humanitarian visas, the outcomes are clear: extremely low rates of employment, even after years in Australia, and high rates of welfare dependence. The story that emerges at this more nuanced level is that employer sponsorship of immigrants, permanent and temporary, is scammed in many cases, oftentimes with linked ethnicity between the employer and the immigrant.
It is also clear that being an international student is often seen as a pathway to permanent residence and recent changes to the regulations have facilitate this — a move much appreciated by the university sector.
That there is some exploitation of international students working in part-time jobs is hardly surprising and again often occurs where there is an ethnic link between the employer and the worker. 7-Eleven stores are a case in point.
Humanitarian visa holders impose a high fiscal burden on taxpayers and in Melbourne, at least, the criminal activities of the so-called Apex gang are giving asylum-seekers more generally a bad name in the eyes of the public.
The underpricing of the contributory parent visa also is causing concern as it becomes clear that the elderly parents of migrants impose high costs on taxpayers.
So before our politicians get too smug about our immigration program and contrast it with the divisiveness induced by immigration in the US, we need to face up to some hard cold facts.
Arguably, our program is no longer working in the national interest. Rather, it is working to favour particular groups and to buy votes in certain electorates.
My guess is that more people are beginning to appreciate this fact, particularly as they bear the costs of congestion, loss of amenity and safety, and declining housing affordability. Canberra insiders need to acknowledge this and start to remedy the deficiencies.