UKIP take note: Australia’s immigration system is far from perfect

Human rights abuses, public dissatisfaction and a failure to get the numbers down make Australia a curious role model for Farage


Yesterday UKIP’s Migration spokesman Steven Woolfe introduced the party’s immigration policy in central London. It includes plans for a visa system designed on the Australian points-based system (PBS), which party members have often praised in the past.

Australia operates a General Skilled Migration points system, which requires prospective migrants to meet a certain number of points which are awarded based on age, English language proficiency, education, skills and work experience. Advocates of the system say that it ensures migrants contribute more in tax than they consume in public services, encourages more committed applicants who want to integrate, and creates a highly skilled, professional workforce.

But there are a number of problems with the system. For UKIP, one of the first things to think about might be numbers. The 2011 census revealed that 25 per cent of Australians are born overseas, compared to 13 per cent in England and Wales. The UK is the leading country of birth for the overseas-born population for Australia, (20.8 per cent, followed by New Zealand (9.1 per cent), China (six per cent) and India (5.6 per cent). The points-based system was adopted by Australia in 1989, but migration soared throughout the mid-90s.

Australian politicians are still using immigration numbers as a battleground in their campaigns. Kevin Rudd’s 2007-10 government cut the target to 168,000 and in 2010 Tony Abbott proposed a maximum target of 170,000 over concerns about the economic downturn – he said net migration was 277,000 in 2009. A 2014 poll by the Lowy Institute showed that 37 per cent of Australians think migration is too high – and that 37 per cent of these were worried mostly about jobs.

Furthermore, the people that UKIP are most committed to keeping out – EU applicants – would not be greatly affected by a PBS.  As Jonathan Lindsell of Civitas has pointed out:

“The PBS ‘skilled occupations list’ includes not only surgeons and engineers (whom we already let in) but plumbers, electricians, builders. Many EU/EEA applicants would, then, still qualify.”

Australia’s immigration minister sets a cap each year on migrants entering via the PBS route – for 2013-14 it was 190,000. As Lindsell notes, scaling that for the UK population would result in a cap of 513,900. Real total entry into the UK in 2013 was 526,000. If we also take into account people who are accepted on the basis of asylum, family unificiation or study, this would actually increase the number of people entering the UK.

Another concern about the Australian system is the offshore asylum policy. In 2013 Amnesty International found that Manus Island, Australia’s asylum seeker processing centre, was not only a humiliating and traumatic experience for refugees – it found insufficient water, lack of hygiene facilities  and bullying by staff- but that it was almost entirely ineffective.

In 2013, Amnesty calculated that Australian taxpayers would spend over a billion dollars on Manus Island and Nauru, its sister detention centre, but that since it opened in 2012 just one asylum seeker had been ‘processed’ and granted refugee status. Noone could give a time frame for the process of other asylum seekers, who had tried to come to Australia from some of the most brutal regimes in the world.

Last year Immigration minister Scott Morrison introduced a bill last month to lower the threshold for deporting asylum seekers. It means that people have to somehow prove that they ‘more than a 50 per cent chance’ of being harmed if they return to their home country.

In 2014 a comprehensive survey showed that over a third of recent migrants to Australia felt they had been discriminated against because of their skin colour or ethnicity. More than 41 per cent of migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds said they experienced discrimination in the last year.

I am not equipped to give a critique of Australian society, and every country in the world has problems with discrimination and prejudice, whatever its immigration policy. But it is clear that the immigration debate in Australia is far from over, and that, with reports about abuses in Yarls Wood Prison coming to light, and persistent public worry about integration, Australia is not neccessarily the best model for the UK to look to when deciding how to filter, and how to treat, migrants.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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