Six facts that tell a different immigration story than we hear from politicians

Muslim women wear the flag as hijab

Immigration is once again a hot political topic, with the NSW and Federal elections imminent.

It has again been linked to population pressures and congestion in Sydney and Melbourne and the perennial strong borders mantra that has dominated federal politics since the 2001 election.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new population plan that included 23,000 new visas for skilled workers who are willing to migrate to regional areas, a significant jump from 8,534 last year, along with a cut to the permanent migration program.

The carrot is that if these skilled workers stay in regional cities and towns for three years they will be eligible for permanent residency — the aim of most temporary migrants.

At the same time new measures designed to attract more international students to regional universities were announced: the carrot here is that they will be permitted to stay and work in regional Australia for 12 months after they graduate.

Increasing immigrant settlement in regional Australia makes sense, but it won’t solve the problem of congestion in Sydney and Melbourne.

The headlines from the announcement were along the lines of “PM to cut immigration”. That invokes an anti-immigration populism, but it is disingenuous and misleading.

Let’s look at the data.

The migration cut is very small

The announcement of a target of 160,000, a 30,000 cut from 190,000, over the next four years is really no change to current immigration policy: last year 162,000 permanent immigrants arrived in Australia

There is nothing to see here if you dismiss the need to be loudly anti-immigration in the current populist political climate.

The real headline of Morrison’s announcement should be: “PM refuses NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s push to cut new immigrant numbers in NSW by half”. But this is not the political message Mr Morrison wants to send.

The data shows why immigration figures highly in Australian political debates.

With 28.2 per cent of Australia’s resident population born overseas, Australia’s per capita immigrant population is exceeded only by Switzerland and Luxembourg among OECD countries.

In Sydney, Melbourne and Perth more than 60 per cent of the population are first, or second-generation immigrants, with Sydney the fourth greatest immigration city in the world today.

Graph of foreign born populations in OECD countries expressed as a percentage

Muslim immigration is a small percentage

The horrific events in Christchurch have also put the ethnic/cultural/religious composition of immigration intake into the spotlight.

Since 1945, Australia and New Zealand — along with Canada and the USA — are the world’s four major settler immigration nations. Australia ranks 11th — behind New Zealand at seventh — in per capita annual permanent immigrant intakes.

Yet it is misplaced to single out the Islamic community — as much of the public debate on immigration tends to do. Muslims comprise only 1 per cent of New Zealand’s population and 2.6 per cent of the Australian population. Australia and New Zealand are hardly being overwhelmed by Muslim immigrants.

While Australia’s immigration net has progressively drawn in people from all corners of the globe, the British and New Zealand immigrant populations have been the largest.

In declining order, the other top 10 source countries of Australian immigration in terms of the ethnic “stock” of immigrants living in Australia are: China; India; Philippines; Vietnam; Italy; South Africa; Malaysia and Germany.

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