International Immigrants Fill Gap as Locals Flee Costly and Dirty Cities

Sean Parnell, Australian (Sydney), March 8, 2011

As NSW voters prepare to go to the polls, and the Gillard government works on a sustainable growth strategy, researchers have found immigrants are largely responsible for Sydney’s continued population growth.

Graeme Hugo and Kevin Harris from the University of Adelaide, in a draft report of their study for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, have highlighted how immigrants filled the vacuum left by 121,000 people moving out of Sydney between 2001 and 2006–the largest exodus in the nation.

“The fact that Sydney, and several other capital cities, are recording net losses due to internal migration is little recognised in public discourse in Australia, where the common opinion is that the largest cities are draining population from the rest of the states,” they write.

According to the researchers, the pattern is a longstanding one and in the capitals, especially Sydney, “the primary driver of population growth is not net internal migration but net international migration.”

Immigrants have been responsible for more than half Sydney’s growth, or two-thirds if the children born to migrants are taken into account, since World War II.

Yet the city is still recording “huge net internal migration loss” and even recent immigrants and prospective settlers are looking elsewhere. “It would seem that aspects of Sydney’s environment–be it economic or social–have a negative impact in terms of both attracting and keeping people,” the researchers write.

Professor Hugo told The Australian yesterday he believed the contributing factors for people leaving Sydney were “overwhelmingly lifestyle issues and housing costs”.

Young families, the semi-retired and retired were simply looking for a better, and cheaper, quality of life elsewhere, he said.

Professor Hugo said net internal migration loss had been high for a decade and, although its correlation with immigration was hard to predict, immigrants generally did not settle in the areas Australian-born residents were departing.

“The ‘white flight’ argument obviously applies to individuals here and there, but there really isn’t any evidence . . . to suggest that it has been a major factor,” he said.

In their draft report, obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws, the researchers suggest governments should support the continued migration of city residents and immigrants to the regions to better distribute the nation’s growth.

Such a strategy would invariably require more funding and infrastructure for the regions and the final report will examine those policy options in more detail.

The researchers also question whether a policy response is needed to deal with recent immigrants in Sydney having twice the normal unemployment rate.

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