For a Really Excellent Immigration Report, Try Australia's Offering

By David North on October 17, 2010

If you want to understand a nation's immigration policy, and its consequences, you should examine – or just leaf through – Australia's annual report, Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2008-2009 Edition.

The document, which covers the year ending June 30, 2009, is the very model of a modern report on a nation's immigration; the United States produces nothing like it.

Now, the Aussies have several advantages over us.

  • Their government notices, as ours does not, that immigration policies and flows have a major impact on the nation's population.

  • Their government has organized all immigration and naturalization activities under a single cabinet ministry, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship; those activities are spread among at least five cabinet departments in the U.S.

  • Their government senses that it should explain its policies in its reports, instead of just totting up some numbers regarding immigration outcomes.

  • Their government, decades ago, started recording not only everyone entering the country, but those leaving as well. And,

  • they live on an island, which makes the arrival-departure counting a lot simpler.

With the exception of its geography, the U.S. government could emulate the Aussies if it felt like it, but it has not done so. (Disclosure: 20 years ago I did an immigration policy project for the Australian Embassy here in D.C., I have been to the nation three times, and was impressed by what I saw of its migration-management operations. I am grateful for the Embassy's Minister/Counsellor for Immigration Affairs, Jim Williams, for reminding me of this publication.)

The Down Under annual report is a good example of how a government can explain what it does. It describes in lucid prose, tables, and charts how immigration impacts the nation, and what has transpired in its immigration programs during the 12 months under consideration.

For example, here is a useful summary of immigration and population in that nation:

Est. Resident Population (ERP) of Australia (as at 30 June 2009)21 874 900
ERP Australia-born population (as at 30 June 2008)15 945 917
ERP overseas-born population (as at 30 June 2008)5 449 311
Natural increase (2008–09)157 792
Net Overseas Migration (2008–09)285 347

In just five lines it shows the relation of past immigration to the composition of the current population, and shows the impact of current migration on the growth of the nation's total population. The full page of these "Key Statistics" can be seen on p. iv near the start of the report.

Given the Australian system for counting people as they both leave and enter, it can, as this nation cannot, count the net impact of immigration and emigration.

The report goes into considerable detail about the rationale behind, and the results of, Australia's immigration programs and has chapters on such subjects as the economics of migration, and the varying migrant flows to that nation's states and territories. (The report does not, however, deal with the internal details of immigration decision-making, as I suggested that USCIS should do in a recent blog of mine.)

Population Flows also has a chapter on Australia's small experiment with what I have termed indirect immigration policy making in a CIS Backgrounder. Australia and New Zealand allow their citizens and permanent resident aliens to move freely from one nation to the other, so each nation, in effect, farms out part of its immigration policy to the other nation. The net movement, as the report shows, is always towards the larger, more cosmopolitan and more prosperous Australia – though New Zealand certainly has its charms (I spent a year there as a Fulbright).

One of the components of that dynamic is that residents of the small islands in the Pacific find it is easier to migrate to New Zealand than to Australia, so there is always a small flow of these islanders through New Zealand to Australia.

One more bit of demographic trivia: while Aussies play only a tiny role in the illegal alien population of America, we do not reciprocate. Appendix C in the report provides estimates of the "unlawful non-citizens" in Australia. The total is all of 48,720 (yes, it is useful to be on an island). In first place are an estimated 5,830 from PRC and we come in second with 4,860.

A more significant feature of this report is that it can remind American readers of some useful aspects of Aussie migration policies that we might well copy. Whereas legal international migration to the US has been little impacted by the world-wide recession, the Australian system allows the minister to adjust inward flows downward in economic bad times.

Further, the Australians, as a matter of policy, have long since decided – again unlike the States – that it should allow more admissions of aliens in the worker categories than in the family categories, thus getting more useful inputs to the society. Similarly, as a matter of workplace equities, Australia permits the entrance of more workers untied to employers, than of workers sought by specific employers. And then there is the highly rational points system which Australia uses, instead of long waiting lines of the U.S. system, to work out priorities among those wanting to move to Down Under.

Needless to say, I commend this publication to those with an interest in America's immigration policies.