Minister Flags Lower Immigrant Intake
October 22, 2008
THE global financial crisis looks set to result in a cut to Australia's migrant intake, with the Rudd Government hinting strongly it will reduce next year's quota amid fears the economy will slow.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans told a Senate estimates hearing yesterday that Australia's record high migrant intake should be cut.
“I'd envisage certainly that the migration program for next year would be smaller than this year,” Senator Evans told the hearing.
“(But) no decision has been taken on that.”
Senator Evans said cabinet would decide whether to cut the quota and, if so, by how much, in the lead-up to next year's budget.
But he indicated that the global financial meltdown would force the Government to cut numbers.
“What I'm saying to you is that it seems to me, given what the general economic forecasts of the world economy are, that your first starting point is that you'd think it would be lower,” Senator Evans said.
Kevin Rudd first flagged the possibility of cutting the migrant quota two weeks ago, saying the decision would be driven by whatever economic circumstances prevailed at the time.
“It's been this way since time immemorial and will be this way into the future as well,” the Prime Minister said on October 9. “We adjust it according to economic circumstances.”
In May, the Government added 31,000 skilled migrants to this year's migration program.
The overall migration program will now be 190,300 for this year, and 133,500 of those places will be allocated to permanent skilled migrants.
The Government's rethink on migration comes as Britain announced it would cut migrant numbers, partly to offset racial tensions amid the possibility of rising unemployment.
British Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said at the weekend that Britain needed a tougher immigration policy.
“If people are being made unemployed, the question of immigration becomes extremely thorny,” Mr Woolas told The Times.
Senator Evans said it was possible migrant numbers would shrink beyond whatever cuts the Government made.
Employer-driven migration schemes, such as the 457 temporary skilled worker program, could start to slow in line with diminishing labour market demand, he said.
“It stands to reason that if economic activity was to come off, demand from employers for temporary labour was to come off, then the numbers for the 457 scheme would come off,” Senator Evans said.
“You'd expect there'd be a direct relationship.”
He said a global economic downturn would affect people's ability to travel, resulting in a reduction in other forms of migration, such as the working holiday program.
Senator Evans also sought to allay fears that local workers might be laid off before temporary skilled workers, who in many cases were paid less.
He said he had recently intervened after a business in Queensland planned to stand down Australian workers before foreign employees covered by the 457 scheme. “I made it very clear to the company … that that was not acceptable,” Senator Evans said.
The 457 program was there to supplement the local labour force, not undercut it, he said.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Department may be forced to compensate 191 of the 247 people investigated by the Ombudsman for wrongful detention.
The department has so far offered compensation in 40 of the cases and settlements have been reached in 17. In total, about $1.2million in compensation has been paid so far.