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Permanent Migration Program | Australia (2010) |

Australia Background Information Permanent Migration Temporary Migration Irregular Migration Emigration Population Conclusion References

Permanent Migration Program

Graeme Hugo

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Contemporary migration is planned in yearly migration programs. The main elements in Australia's current migration program are shown in the figure below.

Permanent program outcomes and temporary entry visa grants (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/2.0/de

There is an important distinction between the permanent and temporary migration programs, although one third of permanent settlers in 2007-08 were made up of persons granted permanent status after entering Australia on a temporary visa.

While there have been considerable changes in migration-settlement policy following World War II, the current program is highly organised and bureaucratised with four separate streams of permanent settlement:

  1. Skilled workers – groups with training or skills in shortage in the Australian labour market.

  2. Family migrants who are related to earlier generations of migrants.

  3. Refugee-humanitarian migrants who either are recognised under the UNHCR 1952 Convention or are accepted on other humanitarian grounds.

  4. Others, mainly New Zealanders who have more or less free access to settle in Australia.

Each year the federal government carries out consultations with a range of stakeholders in Australia to fix a quota on each of the four categories of migrants.

Skilled migration

The Skilled/Labour Migration part of the immigration program is designed to target skills which will contribute to the Australian economy. A points assessment system has been put in place whereby potential economic/skill settlers are assigned points associated with education/training, work experience, age, English language ability and other labour market attributes. A moving cut-off level (depending on the points scores of migrants in a given year) is recognised above which settlers are accepted. The skill stream in the program comprises several visa categories and has become of increased significance in recent years, as governments have sought to place a stronger emphasis on migration contributing to national economic growth. It now accounts for around 70 percent of the migration program, more than double its share in the early 1990s. Moreover, in 2008-09 the quota of 190.000 was the highest ever, although acknowledgement of the effects of the global financial crisis saw it reduced by 30.000 for 2009-10.

General Skilled Migration Points Test Assessment

Each year a "pool mark" is set for each Visa category which gets people into the group to be considered for immigration. A "pass mark" is set which is equivalent to or higher than the pool mark. Changes to the pass and pool marks occur to address Australia's labour market needs.
Criteria Points (maximum)
Skill 60
Age 30
English Language ability25
Specific Employment10
Australian Employment10
Australian Qualifications25
Occupation in Demand (and Job Offer)20
Designated Language5
Studying and Living in Regional Australia 5
Partner Skills5
State/Territory Government Nomination10
Designated Area Sponsorship 25
Total Skill Points (maximum) 230

Source: DIAC.

Regional migration

In recent years a number of new visa categories have been introduced under the State Specific and Regional Migration Scheme (SSRM), which is part of the Skilled Migration program. Hence SSRM figures are a subset of the Skilled Migration program. The SSRM directs immigrants to settle in particular areas – away from the major metropolitan centres of the east and southeast coastal areas. The essence of the SSRM was to enable employers, state and local governments and families in designated "lagging economic regions" to sponsor immigrants without the immigrants having to fully meet the stringent requirements of the Australian Points Assessment Scheme.

The program began in 1997-98 when 1.753 SSRM settlers arrived in Australia. It has gathered particular momentum since 2003, with State governments like South Australia mounting substantial independent immigration, recruitment and settlement activities. In 2007-08, some 26.162 immigrants came to Australia under this scheme. The SSRM marks two particular shifts from previous Australian immigration policy :

  • The Australian states and territories are becoming increasingly involved in immigration and recruitment ofimmigrants, which, historically, has been almost exclusively the responsibility of the national government.

  • Many of the SSRM migrants enter Australia as temporary residents. Then, after a period (around 2 years) in which they demonstrate that they have successfully adjusted to the labour market and Australia more generally, they are granted permanent residence.

Family migration

The Family Stream of Australia´s migration program is designed to enable the migration of immediate family members such as spouses, children, parents and certain other relatives. Following a deliberate government strategy to relate the migration program to the skill needs of the labour market, the relative significance of family migration in the migration program has declined since the early 1990s: Whereas skilled migrants made up 23.7 percent of the intake in 1993-94, they made up 62.1 percent in 2008-09. As a consequence, the Family Migration Stream has become increasingly restricted over the years. For example, the number of places for parents has been reduced. Nowadays, the program is essentially dominated by married partners who accounted for 80 percent of the 49.870 family migrants in 2007-08.

The refugee-humanitarian program

Australia has a long history of accepting UN Convention re-fugees for permanent resettlement, but the current form of the program was developed in 1981 to include not only Convention refugees but others who, while not fitting the precise definition, suffer substantial deprivation of human rights. Since World War II, over 700.000 migrants have settled in Australia under the refugee-humanitarian program. Traditionally, the bulk of the intake in this category has been of entrants selected by an orderly process offshore, and this remains the case. In recent years, the refugee-humanitarian intake per annum has been around 13.000 persons, with more than three quarters being offshore at the time the selection procedure was initiated. However, there was an increase in unauthorised arrivals of asylum seekers mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan after 1997, reaching 3.800 in 2000. Prior to 1991, asylum seekers were processed in Australia and lodged in former migrant hostels. In 1990, a system of detention was introduced while the individual cases for refugee status were assessed. While the numbers of asylum seekers in Australia has been small in comparison to several OECD countries, the issue of "boat people" arriving on Australia´s northern shores is a major one within Australia. There has been considerable criticism of Australia´s policies toward asylum-seekers arriving in Australia unlawfully – detaining them in centres while their claims are determined and diverting boats of asylum seekers to neighbouring countries for determination of their status.

Trans-Tasman migration

Despite a number of changes over the years, there has been more or less unrestricted movement of Australians and New Zealanders across the Tasman Sea separating the two countries. New Zealanders are granted a Special Category Visa upon arrival and this remains valid as long as they wish to stay in Australia. The number of New Zealanders in Australia was 521.233 in mid 2008, an increase of 3.3 percent over the previous year.

The permanent migration figures, however, are only the tip of the iceberg of Trans-Tasman movement. In the 2007-08 financial year there were a total of 1.392.136 movements of New Zealand citizens to Australia, an increase of 3.2 percent over the previous year. There were nearly as many movements of New Zealand citizens in the other direction (1.369.837), an increase of 4.2 percent over the previous year. A distinctive feature of New Zealander movement to Australia is a high level of temporary work-related migration and significant return migration among many long-term settlers. Another element that differentiates New Zealand migration to Australia from that originating from other countries is that, once it is controlled for age, there is little difference between the New Zealand citizen population in Australia and the Australia-born. The New Zealand-born in Australia have a higher level of workforce participation (78.5 percent) compared with the Australia-born (68.9 percent) and a similar unemployment rate (4.8 percent). Indeed, international migration between Australia and New Zealand has more similarities with internal migration patterns within Australia than it does with other international migration flows. This reflects the fact that, despite Australia and New Zealand being separate nation states, they largely form a single labour market.



  1. Hugo (2005a).

  2. Bedford et al. (2003).

  3. DIAC (2008a: 44).

  4. Sanderson (2009).

  5. Hugo (2004).

  6. DIAC (2009a: 85).

  7. Bell and Hugo (2000).

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