International Migrants Day

A collection of photos showcasing different cultures and nationalities
In December 2000, the United Nations (UN) adopted a resolution noting the increasing number of migrants in the world and proclaiming 18 December to be International Migrants Day. Since then the UN has invited government and non-government organisations alike to celebrate International Migrants Day each year and to continue to work towards ensuring the protection of all migrants.

Global migration flows have increased dramatically in recent decades, significantly transforming societies and economies around the world. In OECD countries alone, migrant populations have tripled since the 1960s. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) notes that more people are on the move now than any other time in the world’s history:
Migration is considered one of the defining global issues of the early twenty-first century, as more and more people are on the move today than at any other point in human history. There are now about 192 million people living outside their place of birth, which is about three per cent of the world's population.
In Australia, migration has played a vital role in shaping the history and demographic makeup of what is arguably one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Since 1945 when Australia’s first Department of Immigration was established, over 7 million people have settled in Australia, including 700 000 refugees and other humanitarian entrants—with the result that now approximately one in four Australians are overseas-born.

Australia’s immigration priorities have evolved over the years and the policy focus has shifted significantly since 1945. When Australia’s first federal immigration portfolio was introduced, the focus was on attracting post-war migrants (primarily from the United Kingdom) for the purpose of increasing Australia’s population. However, over the years the policy focus evolved to one designed to attract skilled migrants from all over the world in order to meet the labour needs of the economy.

As part of its planned Migration Program, the federal government allocates places each year for people wanting to migrate permanently to Australia, with program planning numbers fluctuating according to the economic and political considerations of the government of the day. Permanent intakes over the last few years have been relatively high in comparison to previous years and the Government’s planned intake of 185 000 permanent migrants for 2011–12 is effectively the highest on record since 1969 (when migration program planning figures also reached a high of 185 000).

However, Australia’s recent population growth predominantly reflects a significant increase in temporary, not permanent migration, mostly driven by the entry of temporary business (457 visa) workers and international students. Although there were dips in the numbers of temporary business entrants during the global financial crisis (GFC) and decreases in the numbers of student entrants in 2009 and 2010 due to changes in Government policy, student and 457 applications appear to be either stabilising or increasing again. Many of these temporary residents commonly transition to becoming permanent residents—see the Visitors and temporary residents section of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) publication, Population flows 2009-10, for more detail.

Migration flows offer many economic and social benefits, but also pose challenges for governments around the world. Challenges include competing in the global market for skilled migrants; ensuring that increased migration does not disrupt social cohesion and that new arrivals are adequately supported; and ensuring that governments maintain a reasonable balance between attending to the needs of asylum seekers while controlling movements across national borders.

Despite the challenges, there is a great deal of research indicating that the impact of migration is largely beneficial, with many researchers arguing that all categories of migrants, including refugees, have made significant contributions to Australia’s social and economic wellbeing. For example, in Economic, civic and social contributions of first and second generation humanitarian entrants (2011), Professor Graeme Hugo from the University of Adelaide examined the contributions over time of humanitarian entrants. He found that once the initial challenges are overcome there is a strong trend towards high levels of economic and social participation by these entrants and their children.

There is no doubt that the impact of immigration on Australia has been far reaching. Former Secretary of the Department of Immigration during the Fraser Government and Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet during the Whitlam and Fraser governments, John Menadue, argues that we are a far better nation as a result:
We’re a country of migrants, they’ve transformed the country, and we’re indebted to them for the great contribution that they’ve made in helping us to overcome, to some extent, the social suffocation, the insularity, which has bedevilled us as an island country (SBS, Immigration Nation, episode 3, 29 November 2011).
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