High im­mi­gra­tion is good for the na­tional in­ter­est

Skilled mi­grants help ease the costs of an age­ing so­ci­ety

The Australian - - COMMENTARY -

A big, care­fully com­posed im­mi­gra­tion in­take is good for Aus­tralia. The lat­est proof comes in a re­port from the fed­eral Trea­sury and the Depart­ment of Home Af­fairs that es­ti­mates our per­ma­nent mi­gra­tion pro­gram will add up to one per­cent­age point to gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth each year. We at­tract skilled mi­grants with bank­able qual­i­fi­ca­tions who are likely to pay more in tax than they take in ser­vices, some­thing es­sen­tial if our na­tion is to live within its means. Their rel­a­tive youth helps off­set the costs that come with an age­ing so­ci­ety. They lift pro­duc­tiv­ity and the work­force par­tic­i­pa­tion rate. The re­port dis­pels the myth that skilled mi­grants dis­place lo­cals from jobs or rob them of hours and wages; new ar­rivals gen­er­ate de­mand for goods and ser­vices. We need the in­flow of hu­man and fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal. With­out in­vest­ment, growth fal­ters. A short­age of skilled work­ers pushes up costs, as the US is find­ing.

Eco­nom­ics is not the only test of an im­mi­gra­tion pro­gram. In the coun­tert­er­ror era, Aus­tralia wisely has put more em­pha­sis on se­lect­ing mi­grants who not only pose no threat but also pos­i­tively em­brace our demo­cratic, plu­ral­ist val­ues. What’s at stake is civic co­he­sion and pub­lic safety within a suc­cess­ful mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion. Last week, we re­ported that the per­ma­nent in­take this year is ex­pected to fall by more than 20,000 places from its ceil­ing fig­ure of 190,000. The main rea­son is tighter vet­ting rules that took ef­fect in 2015. A tem­po­rary drop in num­bers is no bad thing if it’s nec­es­sary to guar­an­tee se­cu­rity and qual­ity in the pro­gram. Pub­lic sup­port for a high im­mi­gra­tion in­take de­pends on con­fi­dence that the gov­ern­ment po­lices our borders ef­fec­tively and runs visa pro­grams con­sis­tent with the na­tional in­ter­est. Aus­tralians also un­der­stand that a big­ger pop­u­la­tion is bet­ter and safer, in a geostrate­gic sense, for a large, sparsely set­tled coun­try in a re­gion be­set by land hunger.

The other vi­tal el­e­ment of our mi­gra­tion pro­gram is pro­vi­sion for refugees. For­mer prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott agreed to take 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. On top of that, our to­tal hu­man­i­tar­ian in­take will rise to 18,750 in 2018-19. On Mon­day’s ABC Q&A pro­gram Ken­neth Roth, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch, sug­gested Aus­tralia should ac­cept more Syr­i­ans. He misses the big pic­ture. We have a proud record as one of the most gen­er­ous des­ti­na­tions for refugees re­set­tled via the UNHCR, and we do so within the con­text of one of the fastest mi­gra­tion growth rates within the OECD.

Mon­day’s im­mi­gra­tion re­port makes the un­sur­pris­ing point that a high num­ber of new ar­rivals adds to pres­sure on hous­ing and in­fras­truc­ture. That’s not an ar­gu­ment against im­mi­gra­tion, it’s a re­minder of the need for good and pru­dent plan­ning. For global cities, Syd­ney and Mel­bourne do not have much den­sity at all. Bet­ter land re­lease and zon­ing can free up hous­ing sup­ply. As for in­fras­truc­ture, cities that are key mi­grant des­ti­na­tions (es­pe­cially Syd­ney) are mak­ing up for past ne­glect but it will take time be­fore con­ges­tion is al­le­vi­ated. Mean­while, it’s worth re­flect­ing on the fact a well-run and size­able im­mi­gra­tion pro­gram makes us a smarter, wealth­ier and more de­fen­si­ble coun­try.

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