This is a report about the post-war patterns and prospects concerning Asian migration to Australia. Since the relaxation of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 in 1947, there has been a huge inflow of Asians into Australia. The definition and discussion of migration and Asian were clearly identified in this report. Trends in migration were also highlighted to establish a clear indicator showing that there has been an increase in immigrants ever since year World War II. Major country sources were discussed and were linked to the unemployment issues in Australia.
There has been argument that increased in immigrants has caused the unemployment rate to increase. However, there have been evidences showing that Asian migration to Australia is not the main issue in the increased in unemployment rate. The final part of this report consists of the forecast for the immigration rate and it seems that Asian migration to Australia will keep rising and it will be an opportunity for Australia to benefit from it.
1.0 Definition and Discussion of ‘Migration’ and ‘Asian’
1.1 Definition of Migration
A simple definition of a migrant is someone who changes residence, permanently or temporarily, across a geographical or political boundary1. This would include refugees and internally displaced persons as well. Therefore, to distinguish among the variety types of migrants, the term ‘migrant’ is usually restricted to people who move voluntary no matter internally or internationally.
The main reason for people who migrate voluntarily is to join other family members, or to find better living conditions and more secured jobs. Others, however, see little choice but to flee conditions of poverty and deprivation. Besides, natural disasters and environmental degradation may also be one of the factors. Economic development projects and government facilities such as dams and weapons testing areas respectively affect the migrants’ figures as well.
Basically, there are three types of migrations to Australia: economic, family reunion and refugee. These are divided up into a number of migration categories, which have changed over time. In the last four decades, the objectives of the migration policy have shifted in response to changes in the economic and political situation.
1.2 Definition of Asian
The Asian region includes a diversity of cultures, languages, religious and other groups with distinguishable ethnic characteristics. The term ‘Asian’, like ‘Oriental’, is a social construction, a stereotype created by Western imperialist and colonial powers that dominated the greater part of Asia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and well into the late twentieth century. This Eurocentric construction of ‘Asia’ was extended from the ‘Middle East’ to the ‘Far East’.
During the Blainey Debate of 1984, there is considerable difference to the discussion of ‘Asian Immigration’. For demographic and statistical purposes, the broad definition was used by the Australian Bureau of Statistic (ABS), and included the Middle East. Thus, migrants from Cyprus, turkey, Lebanon and Isreal were included in ABS data on the ‘Asian’ intake up to 1990.
Since 1990, the ABS and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) have used the narrower definition2 of Asia, which has been accepted as the official definition for statistical purposes. Under this classification, there are three sub-regional groups of countries belonging to ‘Asia’: North East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan); Southeast Asia (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam); and South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka)3.
1.3 Discussion of Asian Migration to Australia
The post war immigration policy was actually to strengthen the “British Character” of Australia, and the large scale entry of other ethnic groups was not originally intended. The priority was labour-intensive growth in manufacturing; low-skilled migrant workers from Southern Europe, and later Turkey and Latin America were seemed to be more suitable for that.
The increasing internationalized of trade, investment and other financial activities after 1945 integrated Australia into the global economy. However, the very processes which lay behind expansion during the “long boom” led to economic vulnerability during the 1970s and the 1980s. The White Australia policy was then dismantled followed by a new policy of multiculturalism. The new, non-discriminatory immigration policy meant that a quarter of immigrants came from Asia.
The international recession of the early 1980s had a severe impact on Australia, with unemployment reaching a record level of more than 10 percent in 1983, had caused a cut back of skilled immigrants or workers, leaving family reunion and refugee resettlement as the main elements of the programme. Asia for the first time became the largest single component of entries (36 percent of net immigration in 1982-83)4.
2.0 Trends in Migration
2.1 Trends of Asian Migration from Post War to 1970s
Since Second World War, the population of Australia has more than doubled, from 7.6 million at the 1947 Census to 16.8 million at June 1989, with almost 40% of this growth directly due to migration.5 However, during the first several decades of the twentieth century, the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, also known as the ‘White Australia Policy’, had prohibited migration by Asians. In 1947, nearly 90% of the population was Australian -born and most of the rest were from United Kingdom.
Only a mere 3.2% of the Australian population consists of Asian at that time. With the relaxation of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 in 1947, there was a heavier inflow of non -Europeans to Australia. In 1950, net overseas migration reached a record high of 153685, the third highest figure of the century, only surpassed year 1919, 1988. However, during that period, Asian only constituted 4% of the Australian population. Asian migration to Australia, judging by settler arrival data, was relatively insignificant until the White Australia Policy were lifted partially in 1966.
In 1966/67, at the time of the first major relaxation of the policy, the number of Asian migrants as a proportion of all settler arrivals to Australia was a meager 4.7% and this number included a large number of Caucasian from Asia. The complete dismantling of the White Australia Policy in 1973, combined with the Indochinese refugee movement and growth in business and family migration had brought enormous impact towards the flow of Asian migrants in the late 20th century.
Since then, the intake of Asian migrants experienced a sharp increase while the numbers of migrants from the United Kingdom, Ireland and the rest of Europe faced a sharp decrease. This is proven by comparing 1966/67 with 1978/79 migrant intake figures, the Asian proportion had increased to approximately a third of the total migrant intake. 7 Furthermore, in 1979, the total Asian intake was higher than the intake from the United Kingdom as a result of the increase in refugee intake mostly from Indochina.
2.2 Trends of Asian Migration from 1980s to present
Since the early 1980s, flows of immigrants from Asia to Australia have intensified; the development of these flows has gone hand in hand with the reduction in the numbers of those coming from Europe. In 1971, 20.2% of the Australian populations are overseas – born and Asian immigrants represented almost 6% of it, whereas persons born in Europe accounted for 85% of this overseas – born population. In early 80s, it Asian immigrants represents 12% of the total immigrant population and it increases to 21.9% in 1991.8 There was a notable percentage increase of Asian immigration between 1982/83 and 1983/84, when it jumped from 27.85% to 38.23%. The Great Immigration Debate of 1984 had led to a decline in proportion of Asian immigrants after 1984/85. However, the proportion of Asian immigrants resumed its steady climb in the late 1980s.
The Asian immigration reached its historic peak of 50.65% of total intake in 1991/92.9 Besides that, the increase in Asian migrants during 1993 to 1996 can be linked to the strong growth in output and more favourable labour market conditions since the early 1990s. Asian immigrants represent 33.7% of total inflow of settlers from all parts of the world during the period 1999 to 2000. In summary, based on current demographic and immigration trends, Asian settlers now represent a significant proportion of Australia’s immigrants and will likely to remain so in the future.
3.0 Identification and Discussion of Major Country Sources
Prior to 1966, due to the White Australian policy, there were immigration restrictions on the entry of non-European migrants to Australia. As a result, during the 1950s and 1960s, the main source countries comprise of European countries. After the immigration restrictions were lifted partially in 1966, the number of Asian migrants as a proportion of all settler arrivals to Australia increased to 4.7%10. When the immigration restrictions were completely lifted in 1973, this number rose to 12.5%11. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Asian countries have become the main source countries of migrants to Australia. These countries include Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia in South East Asia; Hong Kong and China in North East Asia; and India in South Asia.
3.1 South East Asia
During the 1986/87 period, 60.2% of Asian settlers originate from South East Asian nations such as Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia. However, this figure decreased significantly in 1996/97 to 17.4 %.
The largest source of migrants from South East Asia and Asia comes from Vietnam. Since the WW II, 3% of total migrants to Australia are Vietnamese12. Vietnam has been in the top 10 largest source countries for Asian settlers for the past 3 decades. The largest number of Vietnamese migrants amounting to 88,532 persons or 8.2% of total migrants arrived between July 1980 and June 199013. Due to the fact that many of these migrants came to Australia under humanitarian considerations, the Vietnamese have faced considerable hostility from some sections of the Australian community. Many of these people spoke little or no English on arrival and lacked skills that could equip them to adjust to work and life in Australia.
Since WW II, there were 103,310 Philippine migrants to Australia; this made Philippines the number 10 largest source country for immigrants. For the past 2 decades, Philippines has been one of the top 10 source countries of settler arrivals to Australia with a total of 51,064 Filipino migrants arriving between July 1980 and June1990 and 39,644 arriving between July 1990 and June 200014. Filipino migration category mainly consists of family reunion migration. During the 1970’s, many Filipino women migrated as spouses of Australian residents while in the 1980’s, these Filipino women sponsored the migration of other family members. Immigrants from Philippines are generally quite proficient in English as over 95% of them can speak good English and these migrants are also relatively well educated. Over 80% of Filipino migrants have taken up Australian citizenship which is a relatively high rate compared with other overseas born people.
Migration from Malaysia occurred mainly during the 1980’s with a total of 36,824 migrants between July 1980 and June 1990. The number of migrants from Malaysia peaked during the year ending June 1989 when 7,681 Malaysia born persons arrived15. The main reason for the migration wave was due to the on going recession in Malaysia. During the July 1990 to June 2000 period, Malaysian immigrants decline to just 18,916 persons16. Malaysian migration mostly fell under the family reunion category and the rest comprise of skilled and business migrants.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, migration from Malaysia mainly consists of students under the Colombo plan (Andressen 1993, Bureau of Immigration and Population Research 1994). Most of the Malaysia born are relatively well educated as many of them are students who stayed on after completing their studies. Most Malaysian born people are proficient in English and this has helped in their settlement in Australia. However, only about half of all Malaysian born migrants during the 1980’s have taken up Australian citizenship which is a rather low percentage.
3.2 North East Asia
During the 1986/87 period, North East Asian only make up of 23.3% of total Asian settlers. This was approximately one third of the South East Asian figure. However, during 1996/97, the proportion of North East Asian migrants increased dramatically to 47.1%.
3.2.1 Hong Kong
Since July 1949 to June 2000, there were a total of 108,181 Hong Kong migrants to Australia making Hong Kong the ninth largest immigrant source country17. The largest proportion of Asian migrants came from Hong Kong between July 1990 and June 2000. This is because Hong Kong migrants reached its peak in the early 1990s due to various reasons. The major reason being the uncertain future which might take place after 1997 when Hong Kong is returned to mainland China. At the same time, Hong Kong was also one of the most important sources of international students for Australian universities. A large number of Hong Kong born settlers came under the skill migration category. The Hong Kong born population has a relatively high level of English proficiency. Approximately 73.6% of the Hong Kong born migrants had Australian citizenship in 1996, a rise of 15% from 1991.
A great surge of China born immigrants has taken place in the last 20 years. During the July 1980 to June 1990 period, there were a total of 24,651 Chinese migrants while this number increase two-fold to 52,426 persons in July 1990 to June 2000 period 18. This is mainly cause by the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident where a large number of Chinese students and their dependants were first granted special temporary visas and then permanent residence in Australia. The rapid increase in the number of China born students in Australia was during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when the Australian government was actively targeting Asian students19.
Many China born persons came under family reunion or business migration where English proficiency was not a requirement therefore their command of the English language is relatively low although most of them are highly educated. At the time of the 1996 census, a significant number of China born persons were not qualified to apply for Australian citizenship. Thus, the rate of Australian citizenship at 47.7% for the China born was considerably lower than that for the overseas born. However, citizenship rates for the China born who arrived in Australia before 1986 was 95.4% which is significantly higher than the average for all overseas born persons.
3.3 South Asia
During 1986/87, 16% of the total Asian settlers originate from South Asia while there was a slight increase to 17.4% in 1996/97 period.
India was the main source of South Asian settlers for 3 decades since 1970. It was also the only other Asian country besides Vietnam that made it into the top 10 country of Birth of settler arrivals between July 1970 and June 1980 with a total of 17.910 migrants. During the next decade, there was only a slight increase in the number of migrants to 21,532. Between July 1990 and June 2000, there were 37,148 Indian migrants. These migrants consist of Anglo-Indians and fully Indian ethnic origin.
During the 1980’s most of these Indian migrants came to Australia under the family reunion category whilst in the 1990’s, most of them came to Australia as skilled migrants20. Almost all of the India born population has good knowledge of English and most of these migrants are highly educated. There is a high uptake of Australian citizenship amongst the Indian migrants. However, this figure has decreased in recent years as only two third of all India born persons had taken up citizenship in 1996 while 91.8% of those who arrived before 1981 took up citizenship.
4.0 Immigration and Unemployment in Australia
4.1 Unemployment trend in Australia
Generally, unemployment rates in Australia have increased over the period of 1966 to 2000, along with the fluctuation of the economic cycle21. Though, unemployment rates have become consecutively higher with each economic downturn (1972, 1978, 1983 and 1993). In 1994, Bureau of Immigration and Population Research concluded that there was not any evidence related to the claim that immigration led to increase in unemployment. Indeed, in the long run immigration will benefit the Australian economy.
4.2 Migrant unemployment
For the past two decades, there was a high rate of migrant unemployment. During the 1970s, the unemployment rates for migrant and the Australian born were reasonably similar. Though, since early 1980s, the migrant unemployment rates have been higher than the Australian born. Migrants’ high employment rate can be linked to factors such as English language ability, length of residence in Australia, age, skill levels and qualifications as well as migration category. To be more specific, in 1989, Asian migrant unemployment rate is relatively higher than migrants from other region.22 According to the graph, in 1989 Turkey-born labour had the highest rate of unemployment followed by Lebanese and Vietnamese on the third place.
Asian unemployment for some groups such as Vietnamese and Cambodian-born are fairly higher than other groups. James Coughlan’s study in 1989’s verifies this pattern. He proposed that approximately one-third of the Vietnamese and Cambodian-born labour force is unemployed.23 The persistence of high and long-term unemployment over the past two decades means that new arrivals can no longer automatically be guaranteed a job, as was the case between 1947 and 1970.24
However, the new Asian migrants who have entered under the skilled stream on average have a higher level of education qualification than the Australian-born, are English speaking, have higher status jobs and are earning above average salaries.25 Most of them are from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India and Sri Lanka. In contrast, migrants from Vietnam and Cambodia under the family reunion and humanitarian stream are less skilled and educated, and some groups are experiencing high and continuing rates of unemployment and welfare dependency whereas Indonesians and Chinese were slightly below the national average for representation in high status occupations.
Australia has placed the highest priority on immigration since 1945 and experienced upward trend in total population due to the increase in migration. In 1988, a Federal government report advocated an increase in the annual net migration intake to 140,000 persons or about 0.875 per cent of the total population.26 If immigration level and selection processes remain about the same level, the proportion of Asian born people is expected to be about 7.5 per cent in 2041.27 Australia has been welcoming immigrants because it has been said that increase in immigrants would be good for Australia’s economy.
Therefore, skilled migrants are the one actually most welcomed into Australia. The Government launched a four-year immigration strategy in August 2002 with young professionals filling most of the 12,000 new migrant places, which will take the country’s total intake from 93,000 to between 100,000 and 110,000. About 60,000 of these places will be taken up by skilled migrants with another 43,200 places are available to reunite families.28 Past records show that there is always an increase in immigrants in Australia after every economy depressions or fear of wars. With the recent terrorist attacks and economy downturns, there might be another huge increase in immigrants for Australia. Therefore, government should be getting ready to handle these increases in immigrants and choose the right ‘formula’ to benefit from it.
From the findings, it can be concluded that Asian immigrants will definitely keep coming in into Australia and will have some impact on Australia’s economy. Opportunities exist in many parts of the globe and Asian migration to Australia will definitely benefits the country in the long run. The immediate challenge to Australia is whether the government will be able to grab the chance and fully utilized it. A prolonged program aimed at eliminating racial misunderstanding would be useful in making Australia a truly enlightened society free forever from the racist problem and attract more immigrants especially those from Asian countries.