23 Feb 2009

Australia, Britain to cut immigration numbers

9:51 pm on 23 February 2009

Australia will cut its annual immigration intake for the first time in eight years due to the slowing economy and weakening demand for labour, Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced on Monday.

Australia is a nation of immigrants and has been enjoying a boom in new arrivals for the past decade to help meet labour shortages as a China-fuelled mining boom drove unemployment rates to 30-year lows.

But six of Australia's major trading partners are now in recession, economic growth has stalled, and unemployment has started to rise with the government expecting unemployment to hit 7% by mid-2010 from 4.8% currently.

Australia has been accepting immigrants in record numbers in recent years and set a target for 190,300 immigrants this year, up 20% on the 2007-08 financial year and higher than the post world war II record of 185,099 in 1969-70.

About one in four of Australia's 21 million people were born overseas, and Australia has been actively trying to attract skilled workers, with immigration fairs targetting university graduates and people with trades in Europe, Britain and India.

At the same time, Australia has begun a trial programme to bring in thousands of seasonal workers from Pacific islands nations to help farmers pick fruit crops in country areas that have suffered acute labour shortages.

Australia's planned immigration intake has increased every year since 1997, although the number actually settling in the country fell by about 20,000 in 2001-02.

Mr Evans said the final number of immigrants that Australia would accept has yet to be determined. The government would decide that in the lead-up to the national budget to be delivered on 12 May.

However, he said the government would continue to target immigrants with skills for sectors where there is continued high demand, including the nursing and health sectors.

Australia has accepted nearly 7 million immigrants since the end of the Second World War.

Britain tightens controls

In Britain, the government says it is tightening immigration controls in the face of rising unemployment and tough economic conditions.

The move is expected to see 12,000 fewer immigrants each year.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith says that from April, non-European Union workers entering Britain without a job must have a master's degree, instead of the current bachelor's degree.