Modern Australia has been built on migration. Its first inhabitants came to the island continent in several waves of migration up to 60,000 years ago. Most of this migration is thought to have occurred across the relatively narrow gap between what is now the Northern Territory coastline of Arnhem Land and Timor in present-day Indonesia.
European migration started in the late eighteenth century, principally at first from the British Isles. Twentieth-century migration policy was heavily restricted in the first 60 years or so to those with British ancestry or to those of European background who could help develop the country through their hard work and skills.
Modern Australia now has a much more open policy of welcoming people from all over the world who can benefit the country because of their skills or business. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of people who either arrive in the country every year from another country to live, sometimes only temporarily. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people leave the country every year for somewhere else.
According to statistics held by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over seven million Australians are migrants, i.e. they were not born in Australia. That means that almost one in three Australians is a migrant.
Most migrants to Australia, which includes inward and outward migration, are in fact, temporary migrants. These are people, often young men and women, who come to Australia for a year or two on working holiday visas. Most of these people go home again when they have finished their time in the country although some decide to stay permanently, applying for better jobs and permanent residence. Australia has a reciprocal working holiday visa arrangement with several other countries which gives reciprocal rights to temporary living and working for a year or two depending on the country of origin. Many young Australians leave Australia every year to take advantage of working holiday visa opportunities in Europe. Citizens of some pacific Island countries are also able to come and work in Australia every year for several months at a time, mostly in the agricultural sector.
About 150,000 people come to Australia every year as students in schools, colleges and universities. They come from many different countries, but
New Zealand citizens are able to come to Australia to work and live without restriction and many do so because wages are often higher in Australia and there are often better chances of career advancement in Australia’s larger population base. About 30,000 to 35,000 New Zealanders come to Australia every year and 25,000 to 30,000 left every year, too.
Many people also decide to come and live in Australia more permanently, bring their families with them and become permanent residents. A period of permanent residence may allow migrants to become Australian citizens. This has several advantages. Citizens can hold Australian passports and therefore leave the country and have the right to return, hold political office and vote in elections.
There are three Main Reasons why People Come to Australia Permanently
- They come because of a Job Opportunity. This is the largest category of migrants. Most migrants in this category are what are known as “skilled migrants.” Australia has a policy of attracting skilled migrants because it doesn’t have enough Australians to fill job vacancies, especially in regional Australia. The system used is principally decided on the number of “points” a prospective migrant can show they have based on certain criteria which change from time to tie. Things like age, employment history, professional or trade skills and qualifications and English language proficiency are examples of criteria that decide an applicant’s points score.
- They come because of an Opportunity to Invest. Australia welcomes those migrants who are prepared to bring capital into the country to invest in a business opportunity. Potential migrants in this category may need to be nominated by an Australian state or territory government or have at least 1.5 million dollars of investment cash. They also need to pass a point’s test of their own.
- They come because they are Refugees. Australia has quite a large refugee quota. The country’s refugee policy has become controversial over the years mainly because of what has been perceived to have been a strict attitude towards what the government perceives as “illegal migrants,” i.e. those who arrive or attempt to arrive without permission. Many of these have been temporarily settled in either Nauru or Papua New Guinea while their status is settled. There are also several thousand refugees that are given an opportunity to seek refuge and settle in Australia every year. The number of these refugee migrants fluctuates from year to year but is anywhere between 6,000 and 20,000. The total number of migrants in this category is normally quite a bit higher because family members of refugees are often allowed to migrate later.