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23 June 2015
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Asian migration to Australia

While a growing share of migrants to Australia comes from Asian countries like China and India, only a very small number come from Indonesia, Australia's nearest and very important Asian neighbor.

A growing share of migrants to Australia comes from Asian countries like China and India. It is striking however that only a small number come from Australia's nearest and very important Asian neighbor of Indonesia.

Migration to Australia in the modern era started in 1788, and was led by settlers from the United Kingdom. While the UK and New Zealand have continued to be important source countries, Australia's migration history has been characterized by a series of migration waves from countries like Germany, Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia.

Chinese citizens started migrating to Australia not long after the beginning of white settlement. In the early days, many worked as shepherds and then in the gold mines. However, it didn't take long for Chinese immigrants to suffer from discrimination and racism, leading to the so-called White Australia Policy, and the virtual cession of Asian immigration to Australia.

The White Australia Policy was progressively dismantled between 1949 and 1973, and we have subsequently witnessed a dramatic rise in immigration from Asia countries. Asian Australians now make up some 12% of the nation's population, with Chinese Australians being the leading group. Indeed, by end-June 2011, there were 391 060 Chinese-born people were living in Australia, 51 per cent more than five years earlier.

China now has the third largest migrant community in Australia, after the UK and New Zealand, representing 6.5 per cent of Australia’s overseas-born population and 1.8 per cent of its total population. In the year 2011-12, China was the second largest provider of permanent migrants to Australia. Some 185 000 China-born people work in Australia as professionals (24 per cent), technicians and trades workers (14 per cent) and clerical and administrative workers (14 per cent).

China-born people are currently the largest provider of students and make up 20 per cent of all international enrollments in Australia. Eight out of ten Chinese students are enrolled in higher education or post-graduate research.

Indian-born people are now the fourth largest migrant community, with 343 070 were living in Australia at end-June 2011, 90 per cent more than five years before. The Indian-born population accounts for 5.7 per cent of Australia’s overseas born population and 1.5 per cent of the total population.

Some 225 000 Indian-born people are working in Australia, with 29 per cent of them employed as professionals. Clerical and administrative workers as well as technicians and trades workers were also common occupations at 12 per cent each. India provides half the number of students as China, with 69 per cent of them concentrated in vocational education and training.

Today the Vietnam-born represent the fifth largest migrant community in Australia, with 212 070 Vietnamese-born people living in Australia at end-June 2011, 14 per cent more than 30 June 2006. This is equivalent to 3.5 per cent of Australia’s overseas-born population and 0.9 per cent of Australia’s total population. The first major wave of Vietnamese migration to Australia started in the mid-1970s, with the arrival of large numbers of refugees following the end of the Vietnam War. In more recent years the vast majority of Vietnamese migrants have come to Australia through the Family Stream although there are growing numbers of skilled migrants.

There has similarly been large increases in migrants from other Asian countries:

-- Philippine-born people are the seventh largest migrant community in Australia, with 183 010 at end-June 2011, 31 per cent more than five years earlier.

-- At end-June 2011, 137 690 Malaysian-born people were living in Australia, 29 per cent more than 30 June 2006, making them the ninth largest migrant community.

-- Koreans are Australia's twelfth largest migrant community, with 97 600 Korean-born people living in Australia at end-June 2011, 62 per cent more than on 30 June 2006.

-- At end-June 2011, 94 140 Sri Lankan-born people were living in Australia, 31 per cent more than 30 June 2006, making them the thirteenth largest migrant group.

Turning now to Indonesia, at end-June 2011 there were only 73,940 Indonesian-born people living in Australia. This is an astonishingly low number of migrants for a country with a population approaching 250 million, and which is Australia's closest Asian neighbor. Indonesia is a quintessential labor surplus country which sends large numbers of its citizens to the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia.

Indonesia has the third highest population in Asia (after China and India), and yet is only the 19th largest migrant community in Australia. Countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Korea and Sri Lanka have much smaller populations than Indonesia and are of much less importance to Australia's future than Indonesia, and yet Australia has more immigrants from all of these countries.

Indonesian Australians represent only 1.2 per cent of Australia’s overseas-born population and 0.3 per cent of Australia’s total population. And while the number of Indonesians in Australia today is 25 per cent more than 30 June 2006, this growth rate is also behind that of all the Asian countries mentioned above, except for Vietnam. Large numbers of Chinese Indonesians began migrating to Australians in the late 1990s, fleeing political and economic turmoil.

Australia's foreign minister Bob Carr recently highlighted the great importance of Indonesia as the fourth largest economy in East Asia and the 16th largest in the world, which could also become the 7th largest in the world by 2030. He also noted that Indonesia now has more billionaires than Japan, and on a per capita basis more billionaires than China and India.

But Carr also lamented that at the very moment that Australia should be moving closer to Indonesia, Australia's "Indonesia-literacy" has declined. There are fewer university students studying Bahasa Indonesia today than 20 years ago.

And further, Carr argued that the lack of knowledge between Australia and Indonesia "remains a key challenge". He quoted opinion polls that "found that less than half of the Australians polled knew that Indonesia was a democratic country with one of the fastest growing economies or that it was one of the world's 20 largest economies". Further, he noted that "only 14 percent of Indonesians knew that Australia was Indonesia's largest aid partner", and "that Australians were only at 51 degrees (out of 100) in their warmth toward Indonesia last year".

Australia's immigration policy is widely lauded for its very strategic approach which focuses on skilled, family and humanitarian migration. And Australia's migration experience has been very successful, especially when compared with Europe and the United States.

But the case of Indonesia cries out for special attention. As former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating once said "No country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. If we fail to get this relationship right, and nurture and develop it, the whole web of our foreign relations is incomplete."

Indonesia is indeed an enormous and complex country that Australia must live with. A well-managed relationship would bring immense benefits especially in terms of trade and investment, and national security. A relationship characterized by misunderstanding and mismanagement would be very costly for both sides, especially for Australia.

In this context, increased migration from Indonesia to Australia could be of critical importance for improving trade and investment links. The evidence shows clearly that business invariably follows people movement. And increased migration could also be hugely beneficial in terms of improving mutual understanding between both peoples.

In the Australian system of government, immigration policy is not the responsibility of foreign minister Bob Carr. Rather, it is Brendan O'Connor who is Australia's Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

We believe however that it is important for Bob Carr to take a keen interest in Australia's immigration from Indonesia, and to urge that greater efforts are mobilized to attract suitable immigrants from that country. This should be a key element of public consultations for the country strategies on Indonesia (as well as Japan, China, India and South Korea) which are now being launched as part of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper. The country strategies aim to contribute to strengthened relations with key regional partners by outlining a vision of those relationships in 2025, at which time Indonesia will be an ever more important player than today.

Author

John West
Executive Director
Asian Century Institute
www.asiancenturyinstitute.com
Tags: asia, migration, Australia, Indonesia, Bob Carr

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