You have to go back to the 19the century, during the time of the British colonies, to find such a level of immigration on the island-continent: today, 28% of the 24 million Australians were born abroad. This rate is one of the highest in the world, well above other countries that have been built through immigration, such as Canada (20% in 2013, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the United States (13.1%).
However, these migrants come less and less from Europe but more from Asia and, to a lesser extent, from Oceania and Africa, as the study shows. Immigrants in Australia, a growing and increasingly diverse populationpublished Wednesday, June 14 by the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) and written by Australian demographers.
While in 1947, 87% of people immigrating to Australia were born in Europe, and mainly in the United Kingdom, this percentage fell to 40% in 2011. And this trend continues to be confirmed. “It’s a huge change. A larger part of the population comes from China and India. Our country is increasingly multicultural,” underlines one of the two authors of the study, Tom Wilson, a demographer at Charles-Darwin University in Darwin.
The first explanation is political. In the 1960s and 1970s Canberra ended the ‘White Australia policy’. This practice, “very discriminatory” according to the academic, was intended to keep a homogeneous society, preferably British, then European. It was necessary to repel the Chinese, who had already come by the thousands during the gold rush in the middle of the 19e century, as well as workers from the Pacific Islands.
UK still top country of origin
“The end of this policy marked a turning point in the origin of immigrants,” explains Tom Wilson. The scientist also highlights globalization, taking the example of the many Chinese and Indians who come to study in Australia and then stay on the island-continent after having found a job there.
The United Kingdom is still well ahead of the ranking of countries of origin of immigrants, with 1.2 million Britons settled in Australia in 2016, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Next come New Zealand (607,000 people), China (526,000), India (469,000), the Philippines and Vietnam.
But these figures can be misleading because the population originating from the United Kingdom is stagnating, while that coming from Asia is soaring. In 1981, only 43,000 immigrants arrived from India, compared to 325,000 in 2011. And the number of people born in a country of Southeast Asia settled on Australian soil has also increased significantly, from 140,000 in 1981 to around 770,000 in 2011.
The phenomenon will increase because immigrants from Europe are older than those born in India and China. Moreover, according to the study, “The growing pool of well-educated students and skilled professionals in developing countries is expected to lead to an increase in the share of immigrants from these regions, increasing the diversity of Australia’s immigrant population”.
Further tighten access to nationality
This strong immigration, which relies on two complementary systems – temporary visas and permanent settlements – is not always viewed favorably. Newcomers are accused of taking jobs from Australians and the Chinese are regularly accused of driving up house prices in Sydney and Melbourne.
On Tuesday June 13, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on immigrants to become “Australian patriots” committed to defending the country’s values. The Conservative government is due to present a bill to Parliament this week to restrict access to nationality.
If the law is passed, the level of the English test that migrants must pass will be raised. Applicants for nationality will also be graded on their knowledge of national values and will have to prove their integration into society, in particular by showing that they have a job. They will need to have resided at least four years permanently on the island, against one year so far.
Tom Wilson does not believe this is a turning point in Australian politics because, he says, “the debate on nationality comes up periodically”. In fact, the Australian model is already very selective: you have to meet age and qualification criteria to come to the country. However, if immigration is tightly controlled, “it plays an important role in society and the economy and it works well”. “The population of foreign origin will undoubtedly increase further in the coming years”, concludes the study.