Peter Hughes, Arja Keski-Nummi, John Menadue. Part 3: Settlement Policy and Services.

This is a repost from 27/5/2015.

3.1 Overview

The migration process starts in earnest after a visa is given to a migrant. Its success or otherwise is determined after the person arrives in Australia and becomes part of the workforce and community.

Australia, along with the other great traditional migration countries, has sought to smoothly integrate migrants into its multicultural society, by assisting them to become quickly productive through specialised assistance if necessary, and providing a relatively.

3.2 Settlement Policy and Services

Supporting migrant settlement is a cooperative effort between the Australian government and State/Territory and local government. The Australian government needs to work closely with other spheres of government to ensure that they are fully informed about migrant flows and their characteristics, especially the characteristics of new communities, so that they can make appropriate provision within their own jurisdictions.

Although most permanent migrants are selected on the basis of qualities that will enable relatively quick and easy integration into the Australian economy and our multicultural society, some (such as humanitarian entrants and family stream migrants) will require specialised assistance for a short period to help them get started in Australian society.

Australian governments should continue to maintain a suite of specialised services aimed at ensuring migrants who need assistance in acquiring English-language skills, dealing with initial settlement problems, connecting with mainstream government services and gaining employment get such assistance.

English language capability is well recognised as being essential to gaining employment and wider social integration into the Australian community. Settlement programs need to give special emphasis to English language acquisition, especially soon after arrival, with a variety of access opportunities to suit the needs and circumstances of individual migrants. The programs should aim to bring migrants to a level of English consistent with their capability.

More intensive services should be available to assist refugee and humanitarian entrants who may bring with them the legacies of war or other conflict and incarceration in refugee camps for years or decades. Such services might include on-arrival accommodation, initial orientation to Australia, and support for other refugee-specific health issues, including torture and trauma.

For non-English-speaking migrants who are still acquiring English-language skills, and are unable to access commercial translating and interpreting services, governments should continue to provide targeted translating and interpreting assistance.

The migration process progressively introduces people from many different national, regional, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds into Australian society. Initially, they may be relatively small communities dispersed across the Australian continent. It is important that settlement policy recognises and supports new communities in establishing themselves in Australia. Past experience has shown that effective leadership within new communities is absolutely vital to their quickly becoming productive. Settlement programs should provide financial support to develop community leadership and problem-solving to accelerate integration.

There is considerable goodwill in the community towards new migrants in keeping with Australia’s long tradition of acceptance of migration. The Australian government should seek to harness the willingness of community groups to extend the hand of friendship and support with appropriately designed programs.

Australian governments should continue to explore ways to introduce new migrants to Australian laws and social norms at appropriate parts of the visa, settlement and citizenship process.

Ultimately, the benefits that any migrant gains from settlement services flow on to the wider community by making migrants more productive participants in the workforce more quickly and hastening their integration into a socially cohesive society.

The effectiveness of migrant settlement programs should be regularly reviewed and evaluated to ensure that they are properly targeted and are having real impacts in improving the individual migrant settlement process.

Specialised migrant services should operate as a bridge to broader mainstream services. The Australian government should continue to promote Multicultural Access and Equity[1] to ensure that its agencies are able to engage with Australia’s multicultural society effectively.

3.3 Australian Citizenship Policy

Since Australian citizenship first came into being on 26 January 1949, it has played an important role both as a national symbol for the Australian-born and in integrating millions of migrants formally into the Australian community. This parallels the citizenship policy approach taken by other great migrant receiving countries – the USA and Canada.

Australian citizenship policy should continue to embody the following principles:

  • Australian citizenship, and the values that go with it, should be a unifying national symbol.
  • Australian citizenship policy should actively encourage the acquisition of Australian citizenship by permanent resident migrants, without unnecessary barriers, as part of building a cohesive multicultural society.
  • Acquisition of Australian citizenship should be based on close association with Australia, either through birth in Australia to an Australian citizen or permanent resident parent, descent from an Australian citizen parent or physical presence in Australia as a permanent resident.
  • Concessions to standard residential requirements should be permitted to permanent residents who have spent at least some time physically present in Australia, but only on a limited basis in special circumstances.
  • Australia should continue to permit its citizens to retain their Australian citizenship if they acquire another citizenship, in order to retain beneficial links with an Australian diaspora of over one million people.
  • Australian citizenship is strengthened by certainty; no citizen should be deprived of it except in circumstances where they are convicted of obtaining it by fraud and deprivation would not result in statelessness;
  • The process of deprivation of Australian citizenship should not be used as a substitute for criminal law to punish naturalised citizens for crimes committed after becoming an Australian citizen.

The take-up rate of Australian citizenship by eligible permanent residents is estimated to be about 80%.[2] This is high by OECD standards and comparable to the citizenship take-up rate in Canada. Nevertheless, take-up rates vary between nationalities and there are significant numbers of eligible people who, for various reasons, have not yet taken up Australian citizenship.

Australian governments should promote the values of Australian citizenship and its acquisition by permanent residents on an ongoing basis, with major promotions every few years in order to maintain the high Australian citizenship take up rate.

Recognising that permanent residents are able to, and mostly do, stay and contribute to the Australian community throughout their lives, governments should resist the temptation to increase the existing limited differential between the rights of Australian permanent residents and citizens as a basis for promoting citizenship.

Testing on aspects of knowledge of matters relating to Australian citizenship has been in existence since 2007 as a preliminary to the acquisition of Australian citizenship by migrants. It is uncertain whether this has had any concrete benefits or indeed adverse impacts on the take-up rate of Australian citizenship. Australian governments should ensure that any testing regime does not become a barrier to the acquisition of citizenship to people who will spend their lives in Australia and make an ongoing contribution to Australian society. Alternatives to testing should be made available to those who are uncomfortable with it and should be geographically accessible throughout Australia.

The acquisition of Australian citizenship should continue to be made a celebratory event through public citizenship ceremonies conducted by local government or the Australian government.

3.4 Australian Multicultural Policy

Australian governments from both major political parties have endorsed broadly similar Australian multicultural policies since the 1980s, as have all Australian states and territories. Some states and territories have given multicultural policy legislative status.

For a society as diverse as Australia’s, and largely built on immigration, a continued focus on multicultural policy is vital to social cohesion, migrant integration and community relations.

Broadly speaking, all multicultural policies stress as a foundation that all Australians should be committed to the basic structures and principles of Australian society – our Constitution, democratic institutions, respect for the law and English as the national language. At the same time, the policies stress the right of all Australians to express their own cultures and beliefs, within the law, and the need to accept the right of others to do the same.

Australian governments should continue to provide active leadership in articulating and disseminating multicultural policy as the foundation for a productive and harmonious society. This will not only make us a better society, but a more resilient one in resisting externally generated stresses and pressures. 

3.5 Conclusion – Immigration, Refugee and Settlement Policy

The policy approaches outlined in Parts 1, 2 and 3 constitute an integrated approach to future Australian immigration needs.

They aim to enable Australia to continue to harness the opportunities of the global movement of people to its own national economic and social development. At the same time, they should better position Australia to deal with the growing challenges of forced and irregular migration by making a significant humanitarian contribution to contribution to global displacement, including through a generous refugee resettlement program.

Pursuing these policies should also reinforce a united and resilient Australian society capable of resisting external and internal challenges to a harmonious community.

They will contribute to a:

  • growing and prosperous Australia with a critical population mass to support the governance overheads of modern society
  • a skilled labour force attuned to Australia’s economic needs
  • a closer relationship with Australia’s regional neighbours
  • better management of displacement and irregular migration, including humanitarian solutions
  • a culturally diverse, confident and united society

Peter Hughes is Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy,

Visitor, Regulatory Institutions Network, Australian National University

Arja Keski-Nummi was formerly First Assistant Secretary of the Refugee, Humanitarian and International Division in the Department of Immigration

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