30 November 2009

The student visa industry
We are told time and time again that international education is our third largest export industry. I saw recently that for NSW is it in fact the second largest.

Isn't that amazing? All those foreigners queueing up to pay money to study at our world-class institutions: doctors, lawyers, physicists, engineers, the odd musicologist perhaps, undergraduate degrees, masters degrees, a smattering of PhDs.

Not really. The occasional PhD there may be, but we all know what this "industry" is about. It's such a big export earner because it's about selling visas. In my practice, I see these poor kids every day. They started out doing a community welfare diploma (kids from the Punjab with a burning desire to study the lives of drunks and single mums in Cabramatta), then the assessing authority tightened up the requirements so they all suddenly switched to graphics pre-press - whatever that is.

I certainly don't blame them. They had no illusions about what Mum and Dad were paying all that money for. In fact I admire them. It must be pretty scary to leave home and go to a strange country where you have to deal with everything from opening a bank account to finding a place to live, getting a part-time job, enrolling in a course, complying with visa requirements, without any of the support mechanisms of home and family. They are also very much aware of the investment that the folks back home have made in them, and how disastrous it would be if they failed in their quest, which is to get permanent residence here.

Why not just sell them the visas and be done with it? They pay around $20,000 to $30,000 each in fees, so why not have them pay it into consolidated revenue instead of the pockets of the private businesses whose only reason for existing is to service the visa trade? It seems to me that most of them would make pretty good migrants, with or without a trade certificate in hairdressing.

Not likely, I suppose. On the other hand, we do charge a whopping big fee for parent visas, so there is a precedent. More about that another time.

26 November 2009

Immigration, population and climate

It's the big thing to be talking about now. The buzz words are "footprint" and "carrying capacity".

Both are based on wrong assumptions. My footprint has been a nine and a half since I was a teenager. It doesn't change. Carrying capacity also implies a fixed limit. Human society isn't like that.

There is only one way a cow can be a cow. It eats a certain amount of feed, blows out a certain amount of methane, tramples a certain amount of pasture, etc. What goes for cows goes for all other species, except us. Humans can be humans, and can interact with the rest of the planet, in an endless variety of ways.

Before the middle of the 19th Century, any city with more than a couple of hundred thousand people was a stinking, disease-ridden hole with raw sewage running down the streets and pouring into the nearest waterway. Unchecked pollution of the atmosphere continued a bit longer, leading to incidents like the Great London Smog of 1952.

But blaming everything on numbers is stupid. One person = x amount of environmental damage, so more people means more environmental damage, less means less. The overall success of the international effort to get rid of ODCs (Ozone Depleting Chemicals) shows that, just as humans are capable of doing vast damage to the planet, we are also capable (unlike any other species) of seeing what we are doing and doing something about it.

The various "ecologists against population increase" or "environmentalists against immigration" or such groups are actually a cop out. Funny thing, they usually come to the conclusion that we (that is, us rich white folks, apologies to any less exalted races who might be reading this) aren't really to blame. After all, we take our contraception and keep our birth rates below replacement level. Apparently the real culprits are all those other people out there, breeding like rabbits. Point out that we have much higher levels of resource consumption and carbon production per capita than the rest of the world, and the argument switches from population to immigration. Whatever you do, don't let any more of those people move from their countries to ours! They might start living like us! Heaven forbid.

Am I crazy, or is there something very wrong with this argument?

I heard it put very strongly by Prof. Tim Flannery and others during one of the IQ2 debates a couple of months ago. By the end, I was expecting Prof. Flannery to announce his imminent emigration to Bangladesh. He didn't, but that seemed to be the logic of his position. The debate took place in Sydney. I wonder what the audience response would have been if they had staged it in Karachi?

I suspect it may well turn out in the end that it won't be our decision anyway. If we carbon-munching Australians don't take responsibility for the impact of our lifestyles on the rest of the planet, the day may soon come when others decide that they will not stay poor, will not stay put, will not take their contraception, and instead will get into their boats and come over here whether we like it or not. I guess you could call it Pemelwuy's last laugh.

25 November 2009

Priority processing - not fair

One of the Rudd government's first responses to the 2008 credit crunch was to announce that it would "do something" about immigration. Governments always have to "do something". Imagine if they announced they were going to do nothing?

First, despite the rest of their policies being all about stimulus, they decided to cut the overall intake. Oh well, that was to be expected.

Next, maybe because the general tone of the new regime is micromanagement, they came up with a bright "new" idea (the quotation marks are because it isn't a new idea at all, just one that most people have forgotten we used to have). Thus we now have priority processing of GSM (General Skilled Migration) applications, based on the CSL (Critical Skills List).
The result is that people who do not have an occupation on the CSL will be waiting at least another 3 years for their applications to be processed, regardless of how long they have been wating already or how far advanced their case was when the change was announced on 23 September. Particularly hard hit are some applicants who lodged before 1 September 2007, when the online application system was introduced. Due to the decision to throw resources into the new system, some paper-based applications were just coming up for finalisation in September this year after more than 2 years waiting, and are now thrown back to the end of the queue.

In an interview with rhe ABC program The National Interest on 13 November, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, was unmoved: "Quite frankly," he said, "if we decide [the immigration intake is] going to be 10,000 people next year, they might be waiting for 20 or 30 years". This ignores the main complaint, that people who met the requirements when they applied, and still do, are being forced to the back of the queue to make way for the so-called "priority" cases. See also the earlier interview with Mark Webster of MIA and Dr Zuleika Arashiro of ANU.

The underlying assumption is that immigration is like some sort of feeding tube going straight into the veins of the economy. By regulating the flow, and changing the mix of nutrients, the immigration technicians respond to the day-to-day needs of the nation. This is bolstered by a second assumption: that those same immigration technicians have developed an accurate set of tools for determining just which migrants are needed when, and how many, and what their impact on Australian society will be.

My view is that this is nonsense. Australia has had the most successful postwar immigration program of any country in the world. About 15 years ago, however, someone in Canberra decided that what wasn't broke neverthless needed to be fixed. One of the offshoots of this coup of the bean counters was the "migration industry", but that is another story.

We must never forget that migration is about people, and what has been done to thousands of real people waiting their turn and expecting to be treated fairly by Australia's immigration system is that they have been shabbily treated so that politicians can say they are "doing something".

I am restarting this blog after a long time, because I think there is a need to reopen the immigration debate in Australia following the defeat of the Howard government and the "new world" we now live in with the GFC and the climate debate.

Comments are welcome, but will be moderated for legal/professional purposes.