Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Australians Take Issue with Immigration Policy Unemployment Spurs Debate over New Migrant Levels

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Australians Take Issue with Immigration Policy Unemployment Spurs Debate over New Migrant Levels

Article excerpt

AUSTRALIA, largely a nation of immigrants, is assessing how many new faces it can afford to let in when the unemployment rate is 10.5 percent.

The immigration debate heats up on Feb. 5 when Immigration Minister Gerald Hand begins a two-month consulting process with more than 300 groups around Australia before new migrant levels are announced in May.

Even before Mr. Hand starts his consultations, emotions are running high. The opposition Liberal Party says immigration should be "reduced significantly and substantially." Two weeks ago, new Prime Minister Paul Keating implied the opposition was racist in asking for severe cutbacks since a significant amount of the cuts would affect Asians, who now make up a large proportion of new migrants.

Australia has always been relatively open to immigrants and has one of the world's highest influxes of newcomers on a per capita basis. This fiscal year, ending June 30, 111,000 new migrants are expected, a 19 percent decline from 1988-89. And about 36,000 people are expected to leave Australia, resulting in a net influx of only 75,000 immigrants.

One of the catalysts for the debate in Australia is an incident in early January when 56 mainland Chinese boat people washed up among the remote mangroves of northwest Australia. For 16 days the Chinese stumbled around in the desert before finding help. They are now locked up in an immigration facility while officials determine their status.

The main argument against admitting new immigrants is economic. "We don't cure a recession by a reduction in immigration, but in the worst recession in 20 years you cannot sustain the program at record levels," says Philip Ruddock, the opposition spokesman on immigration.

The Liberals are especially unhappy over the number of immigrants allowed in under the "concessional family" category. This includes nondependent children, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. Last year there were 22,500, down from a high of 38,900 in 1987-88.

"You have a situation where large numbers of people can have access with no prospect of employment and are eligible for benefits," Mr. Ruddock says. …

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