Asian Immigration


Current Issues Brief 16 1996-97

Adrienne Millbank
Social Policy Group

Contents

Major Issues

Introduction

Source Countries And Migration Streams

  • Source Countries
  • Migration Streams

Settlement Issues

  • Unemployment And Welfare Dependency
  • Settlement Patterns
  • Residential Concentrations

Demographic Impact

Population And Ethnicity Projections

Public Opinion

Conclusion

Endnotes

List of Tables

Table 1. Asia-born resident population: Top 10 source countries, 1995

Table 2. Settler arrivals: Top 10 source countries of birth, 1965-66 to 1995-96

Table 3. Net permanent gain:

Table 4. Unemployed persons: Region and selected country of birth,

Table 5. Distribution of population: Major urban, Other urban and Rural areas,

Table 6. Attitudes to the ethnic composition of the intake, June 1996 (per cent)

Table 7. Attitudes to different migration program components, June 1996 and Nov. 1981 (per cent)

List of Figures

Figure 1. Overseas-born population: Region of birth, June 1995

Figure 2. Australia's population: Projected ethnic composition in 2025, compared to 1987

Figure 3. Attitudes to the immigration intake, 1961 to 1996

Major Issues

The maiden speech by the Member for Oxley on 10 September 1996 provided the catalyst for renewed debate on Asian immigration and its significance for Australia. This debate has expanded to countries in the region, and has involved reassertion of the principle of non-discrimination in Australia's migration program through a bipartisan Parliamentary motion, which was unanimously passed. It is likely that over the coming months attention will shift from 'Asian immigration' to the immigration program itself, and its relevance to Australia's needs in the 1990s.

People from Asian countries (which are defined on page 2) comprise the bulk of the most recent or 'third wave' of migration to Australia, following migration from the UK and Northern Europe in the 1950s and from Southern European countries in the 1960s. The most recent wave commenced in the late 1970s with large-scale refugee intakes from Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War. Migration from a number of Asian countries has increased rapidly over the last 20 years, and, since 1990, Asians have comprised about 40 per cent of settler arrivals and more than half of our annual net permanent settler gain.

As at June 1995, only 4.8 per cent of the estimated resident population of Australia was born in an Asian country, and, with their Australia-born children, first and second generation Asians comprised only about 6 per cent of the population. Population projections, based on recent source country balances, suggest that if the permanent immigration program is maintained at recent levels, by 2031 people born in Europe (including the UK and Ireland) will decline to 6-7 per cent of the population, and those born in Asia will increase to 7-9 per cent. The Asia-born will comprise a much larger proportion of the population of Australia's largest cities, and especially of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, than of regional centres. Projections based on ethnicity suggest that by the year 2025 people of Anglo-Celtic background will make up 62 per cent, people of European background 15 per cent, and people of Asian background 16 per cent of the total population.

Asia-origin migrants fall into two categories, with quite different settlement experiences, depending on the migration stream under which they have entered. Migrants in the economic stream (independent, business and employer-nominated) are in general highly educated, English speaking, young (under 45 years of age), middle class, in higher status jobs and on higher than average incomes. They have come especially from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and India. Humanitarian and family reunion migrants have in general been low-skilled and (except from countries such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka) non-English speaking, and some have experienced high and continuing rates of unemployment and welfare dependency. They have come particularly from Vietnam, the Philippines, and in recent years from Mainland China.

Recent research has shown that unemployment rates for recently-arrived humanitarian and family migrants have been higher and persisted longer than previously thought. The first results of the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia showed last year that of recently arrived migrants in the business stream, under 3 per cent were unemployed, compared with 85 per cent for humanitarian entrants, 39 per cent for preferential family and 36 per cent for concessional family migrants.

Surveys of public opinion polls over the last 40 years show that public support for immigration has steadily declined as economic conditions have become less favourable, as the balance of the program has moved towards low-skilled family reunion and humanitarian migration, and as source countries have become more diverse. Opposition would appear to have intensified during the 1990s, with concern over unemployment rates, with the migration program heavily balanced in favour of family migration, and with large numbers of some groups of recently-arrived migrants dependent on unemployment or other benefits. The most recent polls show a majority of two-thirds or more of respondents opposed to the current rate of migration, including Asian migration, and especially family reunion migration.

There has been a consensus among researchers and commentators that much of the resentment towards Asian migration that has been expressed in recent years has been a more general opposition to the impact of all immigration in the context of high unemployment. It has also been anticipated by researchers that, as with previous waves, initial suspicion or hostility in the host community will disappear as the new groups merge with the broader society.

The immigration and settlement context confronting the most recent wave of migrants, however, is different from that experienced by earlier waves of settlers. Unemployment levels are higher than in the 1950s and 1960s, and structural changes in the economy have eliminated many of the unskilled jobs that earlier non-English speaking migrants went into soon after arrival. There is no longer a labour shortage, the need to increase the population is no longer unquestioned, and the permanent migration program no longer has an overriding or straightforward rationale.

Hugh Mackay in his qualitative research in the late 1980s and mid 1990s,(1) found Australians to be highly confused and mistrustful of the objectives of both the immigration program (and particularly of family reunion migration) and multiculturalism, and shaken by the impact of Asian migration to the extent that they perceive their identity to be under threat. While his focus groups expressed pride in having peacefully absorbed so many different people, and perceived themselves as Australians to be tolerant, hospitable and easygoing, he found them to be doubtful as to whether the permanent immigration program was any longer serving the national interest, and cynical regarding politicians' motives and rhetoric.

Regardless of the size of the permanent immigration program, people from Asian countries are likely to comprise a significant proportion of both its skilled and family components. Also regardless of the size of the permanent migration program, there is likely to be an increasing Asian presence in our cities. People from Asian countries comprise a growing proportion of the rapidly increasing temporary movements (including of business people, professionals, specialist workers, students and visitors) in our region. If present trends continue, these sorts of movements will be of more economic significance to Australia than the permanent migration program.

Introduction

Over the last two decades, Asian countries (defined under 'Source countries' below) have become world centres of investment, development and trade, and rapid economic growth has seen the emergence of expanding, educated, highly skilled and largely English speaking middle classes in many Asian countries. Asia is also a region containing more than half of the world's population and over 70 per cent of the world's poor, with countries such as China, Indonesia and India experiencing increasing population pressures. In an age of globalisation and unprecedented international population movements, Asia has emerged as a major source of the world's migrants and temporary workers, as well as a major source of illegal and asylum-seeking movements.

Australia is competing with other official immigrant receiving countries, Canada, the USA and New Zealand, for the new sorts of highly mobile business investing and typically Asian migrants whose presence is associated with economic growth and export development. People from Asian countries have comprised the bulk of permanent business migrants to Australia. People from Asian countries have also been disproportionately represented in the non-economic humanitarian and family reunion migration streams, at a time when the balance of the program is heavily tilted in favour of these categories, and when many family and humanitarian migrants are experiencing high and continuing levels of unemployment and welfare dependency. People born in Asian countries have also comprised a large proportion of 'illegal' visa overstayers and the bulk of 'boat people'.

Asians (along with people from the Middle East) comprise more than half of the most recent, or 'third wave' of migration to Australia, following migration from the UK and Northern Europe in the 1950s, and migration from Southern European countries in the 1960s. The most recent wave commenced in the late 1970s with large-scale migration from Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam war. Migration from a number of Asian countries has increased rapidly over the last twenty years, and, since 1990-91, Asians have comprised more than half of our net permanent settler gain. It has been anticipated by immigration researchers that, as with the previous waves of immigrants, initial suspicion or hostility in the host community associated with the unfamiliarity of the new groups will disappear as they become part of the broader community and their contribution as recognisable as, for example, that of the Southern European Greeks or Italians who preceded them.

The immigration and settlement context confronting the new Asian migrants, however, is different from that experienced by earlier waves of settlers. Unemployment levels are higher than they were in the 1950s and 1960s, and structural changes in the economy have eliminated many of the unskilled or factory jobs that earlier non-English speaking migrants went into soon after arrival. There is no longer a labour shortage, the need to increase the population is no longer unquestioned, and the permanent migration program no longer has a single, overriding or straightforward rationale. (Somewhat ironically, the original reason for Australia's post-war permanent immigration program was population and nation-building behind a wall of protection, which included the White Australia Policy). And public support for the permanent immigration program in Australia appears to be at an all-time low.

Besides being the major source of our most recent permanent settlers, Asian countries are our most important trading partners and a major source of our increasingly important highly skilled, professional and business temporary entrants. They provide the bulk of our full-fee paying overseas students, and are major sources of our visitors and tourists.(2)

Immigration from Asia is obviously of symbolic as well as practical importance to Australia, and the maiden speech by the Member for Oxley on 10 September 1996 has provided the catalyst for a renewed debate on its significance for Australia. This current issues brief examines who comprises Asian migrants, the migration categories under which they are entering Australia, the demographic impact of 'Asian' immigration, settlement issues, and public attitudes. It does not attempt to analyse policy decisions regarding the immigration intake, welfare entitlements for new arrivals or community relations.

Source Countries And Migration Streams

Source Countries

'Asia' comprises countries as different as Japan, China, India and Singapore, and a more diverse range of languages and cultures than does Europe. The definition for migration purposes of 'Asian' arrivals used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics before 1990 was based on the United Nations geographical definition of the continent of Asia: thus the Middle East was considered to be part of Asia. From 1 July 1990 the ABS and the (then) Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs jointly adopted the Australian Standard Classification of Countries for Social Statistics (ASCCSS), a new classification based on the concept of geographical proximity. This classification moved away from the concept of a single Asian region in favour of three distinct sub-regions: Northeast Asia (Mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan); Southeast Asia (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam); and Southern Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal). Since 1990, arrivals from the Middle East (including Lebanon, Turkey, Iran and Iraq) have not been counted as 'Asian'.

In terms of numbers of arrivals since 1975, the countries of Southeast Asia (especially Vietnam, followed by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia) have been the most significant, contributing more than half Australia's Asia-born population. Northeast Asia (China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) has been the next most important and the fastest growing in recent years, followed by Southern Asia (India and Sri Lanka). In 1995-96 Northeast Asian settlers outnumbered Southeast Asian for the first time, reflecting recent surges from Mainland China (11.3 per cent of all arrivals) and Hong Kong (4.4 per cent).

Table 1. Asia-born resident population: Top 10 source countries, 1995


                       Total                % of 
Birthplace        population       overseas-born 



Vietnam              146 600                 3.6 
China                 92 700                 2.2 
Philippines           91 800                 2.2 
Malaysia              91 500                 2.2 
Hong Kong             91 300                 2.2 
India                 79 000                 1.9 
Sri Lanka             46 700                 1.1 
Indonesia             42 200                 1.0 
Singapore             36 400                 0.9 
Japan                 25 300                 0.6 


Source: ABS.

The shift in source countries has been one of the most significant features of Australia's 50 year old immigration program. The 'Asian' proportion of the program has increased rapidly since high level intakes of Indochinese humanitarian migrants following the end of the Vietnam war, while the proportion of migrants from the UK and Europe has declined. By 1985, Asians comprised 35 per cent of settler arrivals, and since the early 1990s Asians have comprised about 40 per cent of settler arrivals.

Table 2. Settler arrivals: Top 10 source countries of birth, 1965-66 to 1995-96


                       1965-66                               1975-76
Country of birth     No.       % Country of birth           No.     % 


UK & Ireland (a)  74 749    51.9 UK & Ireland (a)        17 343  32.9 
Greece            15 153    10.5 New Zealand              2 921   5.5 
Italy             11 420     7.9 Cyprus                   2 855   5.4 
Yugoslavia         8 081     5.6 Chile                    1 905   3.6 
Malta              4 298     3.0 Yugoslavia               1 804   3.4 
Germany            3 751     2.6 Lebanon                  1 519   2.9 
USA                2 326     1.6 Greece                   1 489   2.8 
New Zealand        2 200     1.5 USA                      1 432   2.7 
Netherlands        2 146     1.5 Italy                    1 365   2.6 
Lebanon            1 625     1.1 Malaysia                 1 201   2.3 

Total arrivals   144 055         Total arrivals          52 752


       


                       1985-86                               1995-96
Country of birth      No.      % Country of birth           No.     % 



United Kingdom     14 709   15.9 New Zealand             12 265  12.4 
New Zealand        13 284   14.3 United Kingdom          11 268  11.4 
Vietnam             7 168    7.7 Mainland China          11 247  11.3 
Philippines         4 128    4.5 Hong Kong                4 361   4.4 
Mainland China      3 138    3.4 India                    3 700   3.7 
South Africa        3 132    3.4 Vietnam                  3 567   3.6 
Hong Kong           3 118    3.4 Former Yugoslavia        3 405   3.4 
Lebanon             2 757    3.0 Philippines              3 232   3.3 
Malaysia            2 284    2.5 South Africa             3 190   3.2 
India               2 135    2.3 Iraq                     2 617   2.6 

Total arrivals     92 590        Total arrivals          99 139


       
Source: DIMA Immigration Update June quarter 1996.

More importantly in terms of effect on the population, since 1990 Asians have comprised over half of our net permanent settlers.(3) The high proportion of Asians in the net gain in the early 1990s (over 66 per cent in 1991-92) reflects the large number of Mainland Chinese students and their families who have been taking up permanent residence in Australia since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, following decisions made in November 1993 to allow Chinese students in Australia to remain.

Table 3. Net permanent gain: Proportion from NE, SE & S Asia, 1990-91 to 1995-96


Year                                  % 



1990-91                            65.3 
1991-92                            66.5 
1992-93                            62.7 
1993-94                            59.4 
1994-95                            48.7 
1995-96                            51.6 


Source: Immigration Update DIMA June Quarter 1996 & June 1996.

In 1995-96 the permanent migration (including humanitarian) program comprised about 80 000 settler arrivals. There were in addition over 16 000 arrivals from New Zealand, and over 2000 visitors who were granted permanent residence while in Australia. There were about 29 000 departures, mainly from those born in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.(4) Of the net permanent gain of about 70 500, 52 per cent were from Asia and 29 per cent from Europe (including the UK) and the former USSR. Mainland China was the top source of net settlers (at 15 per cent), followed by the UK (11 per cent), New Zealand (9 per cent), Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (each 5 per cent), the Philippines and South Africa (each 4 per cent), and Iraq (4 per cent).

Migration Streams

Coinciding with the shift in source countries towards Asian countries has been a shift in the rationale for and balance of the migration program. The program now comprises three distinct components, with quite different rationales and objectives. The skilled (or 'economic' or 'independent') component is designed to contribute to Australia's economic growth, while the family and humanitarian components have social and moral objectives.

The skilled migration stream comprises independent (those qualified by skills including English language), business, 'distinguished talent' and employer nomination (whereby employers obtain skills not available in Australia) migrants. Business migrants are considered the 'elite' of the program (expected to bring in $850 million into Australia in 1996-97, along with their ideas, market awareness and overseas networks).

The family migration stream comprises people sponsored by a relative who is in Australia. 'Preferential' family covers spouses, fiances, and non-working age parents, and 'concessional' family covers non-dependent children, brothers and sisters and working age parents. 'Immediate' family migration (mainly spouses and dependant children) has traditionally been viewed as an aspect of encouraging migrants to settle permanently as full and equal citizens, and has from the outset been an integral part of Australia's post-war immigration program. It is part of what has distinguished our program from the discredited guestworker systems of European countries.(5) Concessional family migration was introduced as a component of the immigration program in the early 1980s.

The humanitarian program comprises traditional refugees (those determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to be in need of protection by a third country), humanitarian entrants who would not meet UNHCR criteria but who may be in need and who have connections in Australia, and a special assistance category, for those with family links in Australia and who may be in need. As a traditional immigrant receiving country, Australia is amongst the most significant refugee receiving countries in the world, and is a member of United Nations and other international and regional forums dealing with refugee and other population movement issues.

Asia-origin migrants fall into two distinct categories, with different settlement experiences, depending on the migration stream under which they have entered Australia rather than on the country from which they have come. In general, migrants in the economic stream are highly educated, English speaking, young (under 45 years of age) and middle class. Humanitarian and family reunion migrants have in general lacked transferable work skills and (except from countries like the Philippines and Sri Lanka) been non-English speaking.

Until recently, most migrants from Northeast Asia (especially from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan) have come in the skilled independent and especially business stream. Before the recent family reunion inflow from China, 75 per cent of Northeast Asian migrants were entering under this stream. Apart from settlers from Singapore and Malaysia who have overwhelmingly been highly skilled professional or managerial entrants, Southeast Asia has been a major source of family reunion and humanitarian migration: over 80 per cent of settlers (mainly from Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos) in the 1980s and early 1990s from Southeast Asia have entered under these categories. Migrants from Southern Asia have tended to be fairly evenly divided between family and skill.

In 1995-96 the family stream comprised about 70 per cent of the migration (non-humanitarian) program, and the skilled stream 30 per cent. About 14 000 came under the humanitarian program, which comprised about 14 per cent of the total intake. The family and humanitarian streams combined comprised about 75 per cent of program migration. People from Asian countries comprised 52 per cent of the skilled or economic stream (and over 85 per cent of the elite business category), 55 per cent of the family stream, and 17 per cent of the humanitarian stream (the bulk of which over the last several years has been comprised of people from countries of the former Yugoslavia).

Settlement Issues

Unemployment and Welfare Dependency

The new Asian migrants who have entered under the skilled stream on average have a higher level of educational qualifications than the Australian-born, are English speaking, have higher status jobs and are earning above average salaries. The family reunion and humanitarian stream is less skilled and educated, and some groups are experiencing high and continuing rates of unemployment and welfare dependency.

Table 4. Unemployed persons: Region and selected country of birth, June 1995 and June 1996


                                 June 1995            June 1996           
                               No.      Rate        No.      Rate 
Region/country of           ('000)       (%)     ('000)       (%) 
birth 


                                                            
Total Southeast Asia          36.5      15.8       37.7     14.7 

Malaysia                       3.2       7.4        3.5      6.9 
Philippines                    4.7       9.8        5.5     10.7 
Vietnam                       20.7      26.8       19.4     23.4 

Total Northeast Asia          12.4      10.7       12.0     10.4 

China                          6.3      11.0        7.6     13.4 

Total South Asia              19.1      11.7       19.3     11.5 

India                          2.5       5.5        4.0      8.0 

Total Overseas Born          213.3       9.9      214.9      9.5 

Main English speaking                                            
countries                     66.9       7.0       63.5      7.5 
Other countries              146.4      12.2      151.4     11.8 

Australian Born              511.5       7.5      515.7      7.5 

Total Australia              724.8       8.1      730.5      8.0 


Source: ABS. DIMA Immigration Update June Quarter 1996.

The Vietnamese are the largest and the most researched Asia-origin group who have entered predominantly (over 80 per cent) through the humanitarian and family migration categories. A 1992 study(6) showed that in 1989 the Vietnamese-born were receiving unemployment benefits at five times the rate of the Australia-born. When dependants of recipients were taken into account, 43 per cent of the Indochinese community were dependent on government benefits, and 43 per cent of these had been receiving these benefits for more than one year. Over 25 per cent of Vietnamese-born were in government housing, compared with 7.4 per cent of the Australia-born, reflecting the economically disadvantaged status of the Vietnamese community.

Recent research has shown that unemployment rates for recently-arrived humanitarian and family migrants have been higher and persisted longer than previously thought. The first results of the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia (LSIA)(7) showed last year that, 5-6 months after arrival, of immigrants in the business migration stream, under 3 per cent were unemployed, compared with 85 per cent for humanitarian entrants, 39 per cent for preferential family and 36 per cent for concessional family migrants. In overall terms, around one third of recently-arrived adult migrants depend on welfare payments soon after arrival and around 25 per cent are still dependent in their second year here. Prototype results from the LSIA in 1995 showed, as expected, that unemployment rates drop most quickly for economic migrants: by the end of their third year those who entered under the skilled (including concessional family) category have unemployment rates below the Australia-wide average.(8)

Settlement Patterns

Migration has affected in particular the character of Australia's capital cities, and the tendency of migrants to settle in major cities has been particularly pronounced with the latest wave of Asian and Middle Eastern migrants. In 1992, 58 per cent of people born in Australia lived in cities of 100 000 or more, compared with 80 per cent of people born in a European country and 90 per cent of Asia-born groups. The proportion is particularly high for some: 98 per cent of Vietnamese and 94 per cent of Mainland Chinese live in major cities, mainly Sydney and Melbourne.(9)

Table 5. Distribution of population: Major urban, Other urban and Rural areas, Birthplace, 1991


                              Proportion (%)
Birthplace       Major urban    Other urban        Rural    Total number


 
Australia               57.6           25.5         16.9      12 725 163 
China                   93.7            4.4          1.9          78 866 
Hong Kong               93.3            5.0          1.7          58 984 
India                   87.7            8.1          4.2          61 606 
Malaysia                89.5            7.1          3.4          72 611 
Philippines             83.0           12.1          4.9          73 660 
Vietnam                 97.6            1.3          1.0         122 347


Source: ABS 1991 Census.

Asian immigrants have tended to settle disproportionately in NSW, followed by Victoria and WA. In 1991 these States accounted for 82 per cent of the nation's Asia-born population, but only 66 per cent of the Australia-born. An increasing proportion of new settlers have been settling in Sydney, reflecting both this city's emergence as a centre of international finance, and chain migration processes through earlier refugee settlement and family reunion. In 1995-96 about 45 per cent of the total migrant intake settled in NSW, nearly all in Sydney, and about 30 per cent went to Victoria, nearly all of whom went to Melbourne. WA has also attracted a disproportionate share of Asian settlers. Other States, particularly SA and the NT, are trying to attract a greater share of the business and skilled migrant intake.

Residential Concentrations

The skilled and business stream of Asian migrants are settling in middle-class suburbs and are becoming a presence in Australian business and professional life. They have tended to cluster in North-shore suburbs in Sydney and suburbs such as Kew and Balwyn in Melbourne with little or no adverse attention. However the very high level of residential concentration of the Vietnam-born, especially in the poorer outer western suburbs of Sydney, has been a continuing focus of immigration research, because of the association of residential concentration with unemployment or low occupational status and incomes and with migrants entering under the family reunion program.

The Vietnamese have settled in the western suburbs of Sydney (Fairfield, Marrickville, Bankstown, Auburn and Canterbury) and to a lesser extent in Melbourne (Sunshine, Springvale and Richmond). The biggest cluster is in Fairfield, particularly in Cabramatta. In 1993 the Vietnamese-born comprised 20 per cent of the population of Cabramatta: with other Asia-born groups they comprised 35 per cent, not including their Australian born children.(10)

Some researchers have argued that like former waves of immigrants who clustered for initial settlement support, the Vietnamese will disperse as their economic situations improve, and that ethnic clusters in Australia are in any event more representative of vibrant multiculturalism than racial 'ghettos'. Others have pointed out that the residential concentration of disadvantaged Vietnamese has increased rather than decreased over time.(11) At the time of the 1991 census, 39 per cent of the Vietnam-born NSW population, and over 47 per cent of the unemployed NSW Vietnamese population, lived in Fairfield.(12)

Nancy Viviani(13) has described the Vietnamese 'enclave' of Cabramatta as the symbol of public fears and anxieties about recent immigration: people leading apparently different, disadvantaged lives, failing to learn English or to integrate, adding to the pool of unemployed in already depressed urban areas, introducing new sorts of street crime, and changing the social and political nature of Australia for the worse. She has also pointed out that even though these residential clusters are growing in size, there is also an increasing flow out into surrounding middle class suburbs, with Vietnamese settlers achieving social mobility despite their initial disadvantage. Second generation Vietnamese youth are disproportionately represented in higher education. However there is concern regarding those who remain in 'Vietnamatta', and the possibility that in the current employment environment their disadvantage may be extending into the second generation. Vietnamese youth are also disproportionately represented in crime statistics (unlike other Asia-born youth, who are underrepresented).

Demographic Impact

Since 1945, almost 5.4 million people have migrated to Australia. Over the last 50 years the population has risen from 7 million to over 18 million. While the intake numbers per capita have been somewhat smaller than in comparable countries of migration in recent years, the impact on the population of continuing large scale migration has been considerably greater. Twenty-three per cent of Australia's population is overseas born compared with 15 per cent of Canada's and 9 per cent of the USA's. Forty per cent of the Australian population are migrants or have one or both parents who were migrants.

The Asian component of the population has grown rapidly from a small base: in 1976, the Asia-born comprised 1.1 per cent of the population; in 1985, 2.5 per cent. As at June 1995, 4.8 per cent of the estimated resident population of Australia was born in an Asian country, and with Australia-born children first and second generation 'Asians' comprised about 6 per cent of the population. With regard to the overseas-born population, the Asia-born comprised over 21 per cent.

Figure 1. Overseas-born population: Region of birth, June 1995

Figure 1. Overseas-born population: Region of birth, June 1995

Oceania comprises New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

Source: Population Flows DIMA Jan 1996.

Population and Ethnicity Projections

Bureau of Immigration and Population Research projections, based on recent source country balances and net intakes of 70 000 to 100 000, suggest that by 2031 the proportion of people born in Europe (including the UK and Ireland) will decline from 13 per cent (in 1994) to 6-7 per cent of the population, and the proportion of those born in Asia will increase from less than 5 per cent to 7-9 per cent.

Projections based on ethnicity are more complex: they are based on ancestry or ethnic origin rather than birthplace. Demographer Dr Charles Price(14) has made projections based on a measure of 'ethnic strength', which tells what percentage of the population is of each specific origin, and counts people according to their proportionate contribution to the ethnic group.(15) According to this measure, about 75 per cent of Australia's population in 1987 were of Anglo-Celtic origins, the rest being of other European, Asian, Middle Eastern, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander and African origins.

In his latest set of projections, based on migration trends of the past 10 years, Dr Price(16) has estimated that in the year 2025, people of Anglo-Celtic background will make up 62 per cent, and people of other European origins 15 per cent of the total population; that is, a total of 77 per cent will be of European background. People of Asian background will make up 16 per cent. Among the Asians, the Chinese will be the largest ethnic group at 7 per cent. Four per cent will be of Middle Eastern (including Lebanese, Turkish and Egyptian) origins and 2 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background.

Figure 2. Australia's population: Projected ethnic composition in 2025, compared to 1987

Figure 2. Australia's population: Projected ethnic composition in 1987

Figure 2. Australia's population: Projected ethnic composition in 2025

Source: Siew-Ean Khoo and Charles Price Understanding Australia's Ethnic Composition DIMA, 1996.

While interesting, the implications of such projections are unclear. As the most recent wave of immigrants, Asians, along with people from Middle Eastern countries, are currently the most 'different'. However, by the second and third generations, most migrant groups have integrated into the broader society, and the issue of ethnic ancestry has an individual rather than a broader social focus.

Public Opinion

Surveys of public opinion polls over the last 40 years show that public support for immigration has steadily declined as economic conditions have become less favourable, as the balance of the program has moved towards low-skilled family reunion and humanitarian migration, and as source countries have become more diverse.

In the 1950s and 60s, the majority of the population (90 per cent of which was 'ethnically' Anglo-Celtic in the early 1950s) supported large-scale immigration. However this support was highly qualified, with the majority supporting restricted (that is British) migration only. Since the 1970s, coinciding with high intakes from Asian countries, support has declined. Since 1984, majority opinion, as measured through most opinion polls, has been against the 'existing' level of immigration (regardless of whether this has been relatively high or low), and against the level of 'Asian' immigration. Opposition would appear to have intensified during the 1990s, with concern over unemployment rates, with the migration program heavily balanced in favour of family migration, and with large numbers of recently arrived migrants dependent on unemployment or other benefits for prolonged periods.

Figure 3. Attitudes to the immigration intake, 1961 to 1996

(per cent)

Figure 3. Attitudes to the immigration intake, 1961 to 1996

Adapted from Betts, K. 'Immigration and Public Opinion in Australia', People and Place vol. 4 no. 3 1996.

The most recent polls show a majority of two thirds or more opposed to the current rate of immigration and especially family reunion migration. In the AGB McNair Poll of June 14-16 1996,(17) 65 per cent of respondents thought that migration was too high, compared with 29 per cent who considered it 'about right' and 3 per cent who thought it was 'too low'. In a Newspoll survey of 1200 adults September 27-29 1996, 71 per cent indicated they believed immigration was too high (52 per cent saying it was a lot too high), 20 per cent said it was about right and 2 per cent too low. In the AGB McNair poll, of those who wanted a cut in migrant numbers, 74 per cent gave 'unemployment' as the reason and only 7 per cent gave 'too many Asians'. Seventy-seven per cent said they agreed with a non-discriminatory immigration policy. However, of the 51 per cent who thought there were too many from a particular region, the vast majority (88 per cent) nominated Asia.

Table 6. Attitudes to the ethnic composition of the intake, June 1996

(per cent)


About right                                35    
Too many from regions                      51    
Don't know                                 14    

Regions named by those who said 'too             
many...'                                         

Asia (includes all Asian countries)        88    
Middle East (includes Turkey, Lebanon,      9     
Egypt, Iran, Iraq)                          5     
all other Europe                            5     
UK Ireland                                  3     
New Zealand                                 2     
Pacific (excluding New Zealand)


Table 7. Attitudes to different migration program components, June 1996 and Nov. 1981

(per cent)


1996:      Humanitarian   Family reunion     Work skills 


  
too high   41             61                 25            
about      48             34                 47            
right       7              2                 25            
too few     4              3                  3             
don't                                                      
know                                                       



1981: Attitudes to different sections of the program-'Australia should accept........'


                                               Skilled      
Investors      Refugees      Family reunion    migrants     

19             23            32                44


           
Source: AGB McNair poll 14-16 June 1996.

Recent opposition to immigration has been stronger in Sydney (where the bulk of new migrants settle) than in Melbourne, and stronger amongst those on lower incomes (below $30 000), who possibly see themselves as competing with the new arrivals for jobs and public resources.

Murray Goot(18) has pointed out that while the majority of the many polls that have been conducted on the issues of immigration over the last 12 years suggest majority opposition to the level of immigration, including Asian immigration, different polls have yielded different and often conflicting results. In an Office of Multicultural Affairs poll in 1989, for example, the majority of respondents said the level of immigration was about right or too low. He has argued that such different conclusions reflect differences in the way polls have been worded and the different contexts within which questions have been asked, rather than actual shifts in public opinion, which is 'soft' on the issue, 'created by the very attempt to measure it', and able to be led.(19)

Hugh Mackay, however, in his qualitative research in the late 1980s and mid 1990s,(20) found Australians to be highly confused and mistrustful of the objectives of both the immigration program (and particularly of family reunion migration) and multiculturalism, and shaken by the impact of Asian migration to the extent that they perceive their identity to be under threat. While his focus groups expressed pride in having peacefully absorbed so many different people, and perceived themselves as Australians to be tolerant, hospitable and easygoing, he found them to be doubtful as to whether the permanent immigration program was any longer serving the national interest, and cynical regarding politicians' motives and rhetoric.

The 'positives' seen by his focus groups regarding the new Asian immigrants were links with Asian countries, their cultural and especially culinary contributions, their 'un-Australian' work ethic and strong family values, and, at the individual level, the pleasure of new acquaintances and friendships. 'Negatives' included the fear that the new Asian migrants would not integrate as quickly or as easily as earlier waves of migrants, because of their more different cultures, values and patterns of behaviour, and because of the different context of their migration (including the proximity of source countries, increased family migration, and official multiculturalism). They were angered particularly by a perceived failure or unwillingness of some Asian groups to learn English or 'mix', and thus by their perceived lack of commitment to Australia.

Despite the apparently increasing level of public opposition, immigration has not become the salient political issue in Australia that it has in many European countries or the USA. Except perhaps at times of media focus, multiple issue opinion polling does not show migration to be an issue of major concern. For example, in The Bulletin Morgan Poll of 28 November 1995, which surveyed the issues voters believed the Government should be addressing, the major concern was unemployment, followed by health, the economy, education and law and order. Immigration rated fifteenth, behind 'interest rates' and above 'child and youth issues'. Some commentators have suggested, however, that concern regarding 'unemployment' encompasses a more widespread and generalised fear and malaise at the range and speed of economic and social changes affecting people in Australia, including those caused by immigration.

Conclusion

Research into community relations in Australia has identified the Asia-born (along with Moslems the most visibly different of the most recent wave of migrants), as, apart from Aboriginal people, most frequently at the receiving end of racist behaviour.(21) This behaviour has most often taken the form of name-calling or graffiti, has been interpersonal and sporadic in nature, often 'inter-ethnic' and with causes difficult to disentangle from wider social, economic or political tensions.(22) Any sort of comparative study has concluded that Australia is among the most harmonious societies on earth, by any standard of behaviour.(23)

As part of the most recent wave, however, the new Asian migrants face the dual problem of making their way in a new environment in an economic context that is far more inhospitable than in the past. The social climate may also have become less hospitable, with belief that immigration is serving the national interest less widely held.

There has been a consensus in the early 1990s amongst researchers and commentators that much of the resentment towards Asian migrants is a more general opposition to the economic and employment impacts of all immigration in a context of high unemployment.(24) This opposition would appear to be hardening, at a time when family reunion migration has come to dominate the program and it has become clear that many new arrivals cannot obtain jobs because they lack skills and English.

Regardless of the size of the permanent migration program, people from Asian countries are likely to comprise a significant proportion of both its skilled and family components. Also regardless of the size of the permanent migration program, there is likely to be an increasing Asian presence in our cities. There were 82 500 places in the permanent migration program in 1995-96. In 1995-96 there were also nearly 61 000 overseas students, over 250 000 temporary residents (including 183 000 business entrants), and over 2.7 million tourists. People from Asian countries comprise a growing proportion of the rapidly increasing temporary movements (of business people, professionals, specialist or temporary workers, students, or working holiday-makers) in our region. If present trends continue, these sorts of temporary movements will be of more economic significance to Australia than the permanent migration program.

Endnotes

  1. . Mackay, H. Being Australian, March 1988; Society Now, July 1995; and Multiculturalism, September 1995; Mackay Research, Sydney.
  2. These issues are explored in more detail in PRS Background Paper No.9, 1996-97. Australia's Asian Connections: A Stocktake.
  3. Net permanent migration takes account of the number of people permanently arriving in Australia and the number permanently departing. 'Settler arrivals' is the number of people entitled to permanent residence actually arriving.
  4. Departures and temporary movements are examined in more detail in PRS Research Paper no.13, 1994. Global population movements, temporary movements in the Asia-Pacific region and Australia's immigration program.
  5. For a comparison of Australian with European countries' immigration and settlement policies see Castles, S. Multicultural Citizenship. PRS Research Paper no. 16, 1995-96.
  6. Hugo, G. 'Knocking at the Door: Asian Immigration to Australia' Asia and Pacific Migration Journal, vol. 1, no. 1. 1992.
  7. See Williams L. & Murphy J. 'Unemployment Rates Among Recently Arrived Immigrants: data from the first wave of the Longitudinal Survey of Migrants to Australia' in DIMA Immigration Update, December Quarter 1995.
  8. Murphy, J & Williams, L. 'Do unemployment rates among immigrants improve? BIMPR Bulletin August 1995.
  9. Hugo, G. Understanding where Immigrants Live BIMPR, Canberra, AGPS, 1995.
  10. Viviani, N. From Burnt Boats to Barbecues: The Indochinese in Australia 1975-1995, Melbourne, OUP, 1996.
  11. Including Hugo, G. op. cit. and Healy, I. 'Welfare benefits and residential concentrations amongst recently arrived migrant communities' People and Place, vol. 4 no. 2 1995.
  12. Hugo, G. op. cit. 1992.
  13. Viviani, N. op. cit.
  14. Charles Price is Emeritus Professorial Fellow in Demography at the ANU and Director of the Australian Immigration Research Centre in Canberra.
  15. That is, someone who is or English would be counted as or person of English origin.
  16. Dr Price was commissioned by the BIMPR in 1995 to prepare the monograph Immigration and Ethnicity. DIMA, 1996.
  17. A telephone poll of a nationwide sample of 2063 people aged 18 and over.
  18. Murray Goot is Associate Professor of Politics at Macquarie University, and has specialised in analysing public attitudes to immigration.
  19. Goot, M. 'Public Opinion as Paradox: Australian attitudes to the rate of immigration and the rate of Asian Immigration 1984-1990' International Journal of Public Opinion Research vol. 3, no. 3, 1991.
  20. Mackay, H. Being Australian, March 1988; Society Now, July 1995; and Multiculturalism, September 1995; Mackay Research; Sydney.
  21. HREOC Racist Violence in Australia Canberra; AGPS 1991.
  22. See for example Cope, B., Castles, S. & Kalantzis, M. Immigration, Ethnic Conflicts and Social Cohesion (BIR) Canberra; AGPS, 1991.
  23. ibid.
  24. Hugo, G. op. cit. 1992.


 
 

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