Posted on January 25, 2005

Australia’s Way: Skills, Points and Quotas

Patrick Barkham, Guardian (London), Jan. 24

With the Australian strategist Lynton Crosby heading the Conservative party’s election campaign, it is hardly surprising that Michael Howard has sought inspiration from his conservative namesake in Australia, John Howard.

Under Mr Howard’s government, Australia operates a quota and points system for immigration. Each year, it sets a limit on its immigrants, a policy which has been adopted by Michael Howard.

Australia’s immigrants are divided into three categories: skilled workers, family members, and refugees. In 2002-03, around 118,000 people were admitted: 66,000 skilled workers, 40,000 family members and 12,000 refugees. In 2003, 139,675 people were granted the right to settle in Britain, almost half because of family reasons, according to Home Office figures.

Economic migrants seeking to work in Australia are judged on a points system. While the government insists its policy is non-discriminatory in terms of race and nationality, the points system targets relatively young, skilled migrants.

Particular occupations and skills in demand can be awarded more points and the government adjusts its criteria each year to alleviate skills shortages in the labour market. Australian companies can also nominate individual workers they wish to recruit but must prove the post cannot be filled by an Australian citizen.

Michael Howard also wants to follow Australia’s example in trying to turn back all asylum seekers arriving on its shores. Instead of allowing refugees to reach Australia under their own steam and seek protection, the Australian government accepts a modest annual number of refugees from UNHCR camps as part of its offshore resettlement programme.

Helped by its isolated island status, Australia has virtually halted independent asylum seekers. In 2002-03, just 869 of the 12,525 visas granted under Australia’s programme were to those who had arrived independently in Australia and claimed asylum.

Like Australia, the US has been built on immigration. With its famous green card, a visa for immigrant workers, the US has encouraged huge numbers of economic migrants, and turned a blind eye to much unauthorised immigration.

The average waiting time for a green card has increased from 18 months to three years since the September 11 terrorist attacks and many Britons working in the US have complained about the bureaucracy they have encountered.

But President George Bush has pledged to reform America’s immigration system, increase the number of green cards, and to allow some of those who have entered without proper working visas to work legitimately in the country for a fixed period.