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Migrants, money and melodrama: Is immigration really destroying Australia as we know it? We break down the figures.

Aussie businessman and immigration policy commentariat, Dick Smith recently warned the nation that “[the immigration rate] will destroy Australia as we know it”. This rather dire sentiment is not uncommon, and as immigration lawyers, we thought it was about time we make a well overdue contribution to the national discourse.

For background — following WW2, Australia had a sudden and significant influx of immigrants. In fact, at one stage during this period, net overseas migration made up about 1.5% of Australia’s population. Currently, the figure stands at about 0.8%.

From an economic standpoint, Australia’s enjoyed a rather pleasant 27 years of steady economic growth. Considering the global economic crises that have plagued the world economy over the last two decades, Australia is hardly floundering.

On the other hand, our national birth rate is about 1.79 babies per woman, and we have an aging population. The average lifespan is increasing, and Australia’s population is ever-growing. The consequence is that we end up with a larger burden on services such as public health and aged care.

Since WW2, our migration program has largely been driven by economic policy. Hence, our skilled migration intake is just shy of 70% of the entire migration program. These skilled migrants are typically younger than the average Aussie, meaning they contribute to the economy for longer.

Most importantly though, skilled migrants are cherry picked and no effort or resources are required from Australia to build up their skills. Simply put, they pay us visa fees for our economy to benefit from their skillset. It’s a win-win situation, where the Aussie economy gains an asset, and the individual simply hits the ground running.

Let’s put this into context. Australia has had chronic skills shortages in a variety of areas for many years. Aspiring and energetic migrants help ease this skills gap. In the US, 40% of Fortune 500 companies are founded by immigrants or their children. It’s that type of drive and motivation that we want for our economy.

The Aussie migration program makes up 62% of Australia’s population growth. It’s arguable that if we take that out of the picture, the Gross Domestic Product growth per year would drop from 2.9% to 1.6%. Which is less than ideal.

Further, international students form the backbone of our third largest export industry – education. An industry that is worth about $28 billion per year.

One of the most damaging consequences of this (frequently ill-informed) debate is that we’re losing out to our competitors in the international ring.

Really, it’s pretty simple – when you don’t have relative certainty, people will just go elsewhere. While countries like Canada are opening up their arms to talented individuals around the world, Australia is missing out on the talent.

Ultimately, this is to say that if we’re going to make economic arguments about immigration, it’s best not to base them on emotional rhetoric and often flimsy notions of what is and is not “Australian”.

It’s clear even from the most basic review of the figures that you’d be hard-stretched to conclude that immigration doesn’t help the country.

So, is immigration really destroying Australia as we know it?

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