Australia's future migration
relationship with Asia
Submission to "Australia in the Asian Century" Review
Peter Hughes PSM
Regulatory Institutions Network
School of Regulation, Justice and Diplomacy
College of Asia and the Pacific
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200 AUSTRALIA
Australia's Future Migration Relationship with Asia
The evolution of the migration relationship with Asia represents one of the most dramatic
changes in Australia’s interaction with Asia in the last 40 years. It has produced equally
dramatic and enduring changes in Australian society.
In that period, Australia has moved from a situation of almost no Asian-origin permanent or
temporary migration to a modern reality where Asian countries figure very prominently in
the top 10 source countries of permanent migration (economic, family and humanitarian)
and in the top 10 source countries of most forms of temporary migration (temporary skilled
workers, students, working holidaymakers and visitors).
The effect of 40 years of opening up all forms of Asian migration has been overwhelmingly
positive in terms of economic and social development of Australia. It has changed the face
of our society and the image that we portray in the region.
The development trajectory of Asian countries provides Australia with further very significant
opportunities to meet its migration objectives of nation-building and enriching Australia
The growing pools of highly skilled, English-speaking people in Asia who are mobile will
match Australia's needs for skilled, English speaking, permanent and temporary skilled
migrants to service our own economic requirements and to deal with labour market gaps
created by an ageing workforce and population. Equally, the growing pools of people in Asia
with high disposable incomes and an interest in travel and study abroad create continuing
opportunities for well-targeted tourism and international education policies.
Australian migration policies need to be crafted to ensure that, in the context of global non-
discriminatory policy, Australia makes the most of these opportunities. In doing so, it is
important that policy and practices are carefully risk-managed to ensure that Australia does
not attract forms of migration that are not beneficial to its interests or unrealistically raise
expectations of permanent migration opportunities. The latter will result in more restrictive
policy reactions when outcomes and trends prove unacceptable (such as policy changes in
recent years flowing from an unwisely generous linkage between some forms of
international study and permanent migration opportunities).
Australia also needs to continue to review and adjust its scrutiny levels and migration
controls to reflect changing risk profiles from Asian countries, particularly as those risk levels
reduce over time with economic development. Australia already applies its lowest risk levels
to a number of Asian countries, reflecting that trend.
The effect of migration policy change over the last 40 years has been the development of a
very significant population of Australians of Asian origin. With the support of world leading
migrant settlement and multicultural policies, this change has been extremely well-managed
and occurred without significant problems. The continuance of effective national
multicultural and diversity policies in order to maintain a harmonious and cohesive society is
in Australia's interests and will reflect positively on Australia's image in Asia.
Beyond migration issues involving the movement of people to Australia, Australia has a
broader interest in regional cooperation on migration.
Most of the world's population lives in Asia and there will continue to be growth in mobility
in that population. With that growth, there is potential for an increase in irregular migration,
including people smuggling and trafficking. Forced migration and internal displacement for
humanitarian reasons already involves millions of people in Asia. Effective management of
refugee protection in the region is hampered by the fact that few countries are signatories
to the 1951 Refugees Convention. Those that are signatories lack the capacity and systems
to give effect to their obligations. This opens up gaps which are filled by people smuggling
There is growing concern about the possibility of further massive displacement in Asia as a
result of climate change, but with great uncertainties about its timing and scale.
Australia has played an important role in the resolution of refugee situations in Asia through
political action, financial assistance and resettlement of refugees in Australia. It will continue
to have an important role in this area.
The management of migration, including humanitarian migration in the region, is largely
through national systems, with a slowly developing network of informal bilateral consultation
and cooperation. A number of forums have been tried over time to develop broader
multilateral cooperative efforts, the most promising being the Bali Process on People
Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons and Transnational Crime. In 2011, the Bali process
began to move beyond a heavy law enforcement focus and acknowledge that governments
in the region had to turn their attention to dealing with broader issues of refugee protection
through cooperative measures. Although in its early stages, this work is showing great
Australia has a continuing strong interest in making a long-term investment in multilateral
and bilateral forums aimed at cooperative management of migration, including humanitarian
migration, in the region. This investment will yield its best results if it is consistent and
persistent in building up structures for the long-term, rather than through one-off reactions
to particular crises or flows of people. The long-term goal should be to achieve a standing
set of cooperative arrangements in the region as a basis for collectively and cooperatively
dealing with migration challenges. These arrangements need to be backed by capacity
building, where necessary, to ensure that relevant national administrations (many of which
are extremely weak in the area of migration management) are capable of both participation
and effective implementation.
Regional cooperative arrangements on migration issues should not only be seen in the
context of dealing with difficulties and challenges, but also greater facilitation of migration
where it is mutually beneficial to regional countries. The APEC Business Travel Card, which
has been in existence for over a decade, is an early example of the possibilities.
The migration relationship with Asia merits specific coverage in the White Paper in order to
chart a well thought out strategic approach, fully integrated with other policy directions.
24 February 2012