JAMIE LINGHAM. The changing face of Australian immigration.

Now more than ever we need to work together as a nation to address the immigration department and the mechanisms of safe passage, and put a stop to Australia’s unacceptable practices and inhumane treatment of individuals.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 18 months, you would have noticed that there has been a momentous shift in attitude as to the way that Australia views those people looking to secure a new life in our great country. 

Recent media on intervention on visas for two au pairs, by Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, has highlighted the inequities that appear to be becoming the norm throughout many areas of the Australian immigration program.

This shift in policy has several intended and unintended consequences for Australia’s competitive position on the global stage, with a number of companies opting to outsource certain roles to countries outside of our borders.

Significant fee increases, introduction of levies, painfully long processing times and reduction in resources appear to part in parcel of a significant campaign to rewrite our proud history of welcoming migrants and celebrating their contributions to Australia. 

Interestingly, staff members from the Department have commented that they also feel the winds of change, with the internal direction moving from nation building and inclusion, to border protection and bona fides of applicants.

The current program is now administered in a brutal fashion, with the departure from “the care bear” mentality to a new hard-line approach. In the past, Departmental Officers would consider applications with the lens of “Australia’s interest” and make telephone calls to Sponsors and applicants to clarify questions, where now, the view is to “look for reasons to refuse”, an action that causes great expense and anguish to everyone on the receiving end of this determination.

How did we end up here?

Long gone are the days of the “ten-pound pom”, a by-product of the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme that was created in 1945 by the Chifley Government and its first Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, as part of the “Populate or Perish” policy.

It appears that Australia’s compassion and love for migrants officially stopped in August 2001 when then Prime Minister, John Howard implemented the “Pacific Solution”. Our response to those facing persecution was to welcome, not with open arms, but through imprisonment, isolation and hostility. 

The desensitisation of the Australian public towards the plight of migrants continued through placing refugees outside of the migration zone.  The subliminal attack on migrants did not stop on refugees but appears to have continued through the whole immigration program, including the family and skilled streams. 

What appears to be a significant and subtle shift in attitude has contributed to our current immigration policy and position, affecting not only those looking to arrive legally but also for a considerable number of Australian employers who need these skills and experience of overseas foreign nationals as employees.

Too much migration

The truth is that whilst Australia’s population may appear to be “more multicultural” we are also host to more than 8.5 million tourists per year, 700,000 New Zealand passport holders, 168,000 working holiday makers, as well as in-excess of 500,000 student visas holders, all contributing to our third largest export, the $32 billion student market. 

There is a good chance that when you walk outside your door the “non-Australian” (whatever this looks like) people will be one of the 1.74 million temporary visa holders in Australia at any one time, rather than migrants “taking over” our country. Besides this fact, 28% of Australian were born overseas. Nearly half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas (first generation) or have at least one parent born overseas (second generation).

Disconnection

It saddens me to witness that for the past 17 years (coincidently, the same time I have been a practitioner in the industry), the immigration department appears to have been actively retreating from humanity, from personalised service and from what many of us identify as being uniquely Australian, through giving everyone a “fair go”.

Whilst everyone will think that immigration is about humanitarian purposes, the Australian business community is now feeling the aftershocks of the erosion and attitudes towards migrants that is now permeating in the current the sponsored working program and will continue to fester unless significant action is taken.

In the immigration advice industry, we are witnessing a significant retreat from public and private consultation from the Department, on a number of levels. State-based Department liaison meetings with key stakeholder groups to address a number of issues and to suggest improvements have been cut, severing ties with practitioners that act as the conduit between government policy and legal confusion. 

Money matters

The Australian public has been primed to forgive successive governments that have continued to target, overcharge and under-service two of the most deeply unpopular groups in Australia, bankers and migrants. 

Migrants are easy targets and the Government has based budget revenue forecasts from immigration on current levels, as opposed to banking on the claimed reduction in numbers that have been pushed through media channels for political lobbying of the Australian public. Migration is here to stay, and all sides of politics know that this is an easy way to fund campaign promises, whilst still maintaining political mileage.

Enacting change

The amount of effort that comes with stopping the juggernaut of successive governments transforming Australia’s immigration program, is immense but far from impossible. Too many people at all levels, both inside and outside of the Department are afraid to put their head up for the fear of rocking the boat and becoming champion of the negatives of the program. This must change.

Unless the Australian public and corporate worlds work together, and the decline of the immigration department and the mechanisms of safe passage are addressed, those at the top levels will further fuel the inhumane treatment of all individuals, well past what our Australian core values would deem as acceptable practices. 

Jamie Lingham is a highly passionate immigration strategist and CEO of Absolute Immigration www.absoluteimmigration.com an immigration agency which he founded 17 years ago. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamie-lingham-166b2a/

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