Migration hardline is selling Australia short



The Morrison government continues to demonstrate just how tough the Australian Department of Home Affairs can be — toward select groups of people at least. A hard-hitting reminder came when award-winning Berlin-based journalist of Cameroonian descent Mimi Mefo was denied a visa to enter Australia in order to speak at the Integrity 20 conference in Brisbane on 25 October about press freedom.

Award-winning journalist Mimi Mefo (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)The basis of the denial was that immigration authorities believed she might try and stay in Australia, despite having a job with German press Deutsche Well. She believes that her African descent played a part. It does indeed seem that the underlying assumption within the immigration system is that anyone who originates from lower- or middle-income countries, who also happen to be mostly people of colour, would want to stay in Australia regardless of their circumstances.

On the skilled migration front, Australia will introduce two new regional skilled visa types offering 25,000 places annually, an increase from the former 23,000 from 19 November. There will be one state-sponsored and one employer-sponsored category, both aimed at people in relevant occupations willing to live and work outside of metropolitan regions Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Perth and Gold Coast have regained their regional status. Visa holders will be able to apply for permanent residency after at least three years of working and staying in a particular area, an increase from two under its visa predecessors.

While this may sound alright in theory, boosting the economy while reinvigorating regional areas, recent research has painted quite a different picture. It focused on the experiences of migrants who came under state sponsorship in South Australia and found that unemployment among this group was double the state average, and 54 per cent of respondents said they were in jobs that they were essentially overqualified for. Forty-three per cent of those interviewed also believed Australian employers discriminated against those who do not have local experience, ten per cent felt there was discrimination coming from employers more broadly, and 7.9 per cent felt that they were discriminated against on the basis of language.

The researchers conclude that: 'For the program to work as intended, federal and state governments need to face up to the disconnect between their identification of skill shortages and employers' unwillingness to employ new migrants.'

With regard to Australia's humanitarian intake, the Department of Home Affairs released that in 2018-19, South and Central America was a priority region and confirmed with SBS Spanish that it will remain a priority in 2019-20. This is a reminder of the resettlement deal made by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with former US President Barak Obama that was essentially a swap to distance Australia from its responsibilities for refugees detained on Nauru and Manus Island in exchange for Australia providing increased assistance to Latin American refugees.

In an exclusive interview with SBS Spanish during her recent visit to Australia, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that Australia should increase its humanitarian intake, but also that the Middle East and Africa should be prioritised due to their greater need.


"For the program to work as intended, federal and state governments need to face up to the disconnect between their identification of skill shortages and employers' unwillingness to employ new migrants."


With 18,762 humanitarian visas granted during the 2018-19 year in Australia, 0.4 per cent of which were to people from the Americas, it seems that this regional allocation continues to be merely a political act; to see through the US deal. There is no doubt about the need for an increase in the overall humanitarian quota considering the number of forcefully displaced people by the end of 2018 was 70.8 million globally including 6.7 million Syrians who have refugee status, according to UNHCR data.

Refugees who have arrived by boat and remain in detention are not counted under Australia's humanitarian program even after they're recognised by Australian law as refugees, while refugees who continue to arrive by plane are. According to the Department of Home Affairs 2018-19 annual report, expenditure on offshore detention was $1.041 billion. The question of refugees who arrive by boat remains victim to brutal politics which date back to John Howard's divisive politicisation of the 2001 Tampa.

While Scott Morrison may be sticking to awkward slogans such as likening Australian multiculturalism to garam masala, immigration policy and practice proves to remain wholeheartedly protectionist, consistent with Home Affair's 'Purpose 1: Protect Australia'. In fact, due to this stance, immigration is arguably not being leveraged to actually benefit the country, including its flailing economy. This is despite a government report released last year stating that immigrants increase GDP and helped avoid the 2008 financial crisis.

From this recent visa blunder to a broader system of migration deterrence especially toward people from non-white, non-anglophone countries, it is clear that immigration in Australia is stuck between a rock, being the pressures of politics, and a hard place called racism; pressures which are invariably linked.



Bree Alexander's words have appeared with Enchanting Verses, Westerly Magazine and Australian Multilingual Writing Project. Under pseudonym Lika Posamari, she was shortlisted for the Overland Fair Australia Prize 2018 (NTEU category) and published a poetry chapbook The Eye as it Inhales Onions.

Main image: Award-winning journalist Mimi Mefo (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

Topic tags: Bree Alexander, immigration, Nauru, Manus Island



submit a comment

Existing comments

This article started really well, supported by facts and reasoning but degenerated to pleading racism and Anglophobic slurring. Sure, the groups who fall foul of the immigration laws are largely not Caucasian but that's more relative to the means by which that group chose to enter Australia than their skin colour. A consideration in the boat refugee matter is that many have entered Indonesia on visa-on-arrival Tourist / Short stay visas but somehow they have transitioned to refugee status when they head out for Australia. Not dissimilar was the case of Rahaf Mohammed, flying with a ticket destination to Australia but in transit in Bangkok and claiming refugee status after being refused a local tourist visa... The penalty isn't applied because of skin color, it's because they tried to outsmart the law. Taunting racism because the refugees being from "non-white, non-Anglophone countries" is nonsensical; white, Anglophone countries don't have a refugee classification and the immigration department has little choice where applicants come from.
Ray | 13 November 2019

The nations capacity to carry more people is rapidly declining. The increasing frequency of droughts, floods and bush fires is pushing people from the land towards a thin coastal margin which is already becoming overpopulated. Unless 700k new arrives are going to wear a loincloth and hunt for their existence, there is no room for more clever and upskilled people from overseas. Dumbness is the state of play!.
Juss Nudwick | 13 November 2019

The basis for the denial of the visa is the likelihood of people arriving under false pretences. Disappearing, illegally, into the population. Leading to corruption of the visa process. Its based on evidence and precedence and patterns. Cameroon has extraordinarily high rates of non compliance. This is not an Australian migration policy; its a global practice. Difficult to argue a race based policy exists in Australia's migration policy when the largest cohorts of migrants to Australia are Chinese and Indian. Too many issues around migration are linked here. The result is overreach. For example, there are over 70 million displaced, yes, but this issue of need for resettlement places is complex. Ultimately, less than 3 million are seeking resettlement, annually, in countries of second asylum. The largest hoster of Syrian refugees, Turkey, is seriously considering moves to allow permanent resettlement of many of the Syrians within their borders. To offer durable solutions. Why? Many reasons, one being Turkey has realised the economic benefits. Turkey's economy is booming. So need for resettlement is nuanced, dynamic, complex, evolving, not simply a numbers game.
John Kilner | 19 November 2019


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up