Some implications of a large temporary population

Because the number of people with Australian residence rights crept up with little public awareness or debate, our thinking about what this means for them and for the permanent population is not well developed. Some observations:

1. The distinction between temporary and permament residence is important in eligibility for a wide range of welfare rights. It is part of the dispute about whether international students should receive public transport concessions. I have argued in the past that as temporary residents international students should not be entitled to this taxpayer subsidy – that choosing to study here gives them no claim on public funds.

Commenter caf has suggested that the fact that many international students go on to acquire permanent residence rights complicates this argument. Another complicating factor is the claim that given that temporary residents pay taxes, why should they not all also receive government services? While international students aren’t likely to be paying much tax if they are observing the work conditions of their visas, section 457 visa holders will often be paying significant amounts of tax.

2. Does a large population with residential rights but not voting rights have broader political implications? The Indian student protests were I think the first time that non-citizens engaged in large-scale and aggressive political action. The refugees are non-citizens who have been a major political issue, but their Australian lawyers and activists have led campaigns on their behalf.

As I noted in my paper on political expenditure laws, if these laws pass Indian students could commit an offence if they receive money from home to help with their political campaigns in Australia. Is that appropriate given their legitimate interests here?

3. Regardless of local political activity, the Indian student bashings diplomatic disaster highlighted that home countries hold host countries responsible for what happens to their citizens. If similar types of nasty incidents started happening to Chinese students, what would this mean for the important commercial relationship with China?

4. Temporary and permanent migrants are adding to pressure on housing. As Pollytics blog reports, a third of respondents in the latest Essential Research poll thought that overseas buyers were contributing to rising house prices. It was the most important demand factor in the survey.

When my parents sold their house recently, the real estate agent advised on several changes to make it more attractive to Chinese buyers, and indeed the place sold to a Chinese family. Legally, I understand they are permanent residents, but with an arrangement I have heard of before – wife and kids live here, while the husband and father mostly still works in China with visits to Australia, an intermittent rather than temporary or permanent resident. Is this arrangement the mainland version of the 1990s Hong Kong Chinese strategy of hedging their bets by getting legal rights and assets elsewhere? I’d like to know more about this.

5. While there are housing and congestion costs to having many temporary migrants, there are significant benefits as well. They are a balancing item in the workforce, with numbers going up when our labour market needs are high and shrinking when there are fewer job opportunities. Their lack of eligibility for welfare benefits makes them profitable for the federal government in particular, giving it more to spend on citizens and permanent residents.

While the export earnings from international students are exaggerated, they are still significant. Australian university students have particular cause to be grateful for the money international students bring to universities (and I am grateful too, as I would have lost my job in the financial crisis that would have crippled all Australian universities without them). I also like the way international students have contributed to the revitalisation of Melbourne’s CBD.

6. The benefits from temporary migration mean that Australia is vulnerable to large-scale departures. Many firms and even industries rely on temporary migrants as workers or customers. I don’t know the mix of temporaries and permanents, but in Melbourne taxi driving, security and convenience stores seem largely staffed by people of Indian appearance. As well as universities relying on international students, there have been many residential developments aimed at international students. This economic significance perhaps gives them political leverage – they can’t vote, but they have other ways of creating political pressure.

21 thoughts on “Some implications of a large temporary population

  1. I have few random comments:
    “If similar types of nasty incidents started happening to Chinese students, what would this mean for the important commercial relationship with China?”
    Nothing, because the Chinese government doesn’t care much about the safety of it’s overseas diasporo, as the situation in Indonesia (and many other places) a few years ago showed (and to a much lesser extent it’s Aus students: [e.g., here] ). The only reason it would make a difference is if they had some sort of other political motive and could use it as a bargaining chip or just to be nasty. A bit like Stern Hu and co.
    “while the husband and father mostly still works in China with visits to Australia, an intermittent rather than temporary or permanent resident. Is this arrangement the mainland version of the 1990s Hong Kong Chinese strategy of hedging their bets by getting legal rights and assets elsewhere? I’d like to know more about this.”
    This isn’t just a Chinese thing — it’s getting more and more common world wide. The situation these days in HK is that HK passports work as Chinese ones for China (you can also get what some people call a “we love China card” that gives you the same benefits).
    “The benefits from temporary migration mean that Australia is vulnerable to large-scale departures.”
    Again, I don’t think this is just restricted to temporary migration. If the Aus dollar died like the US one and you got paid twice as much to work somewhere else that was decent (cf. some dangerous place), there would be a huge outflow of people (doctors, scientists etc.). Just look at NZ, or look at countries with lots of Aus professionals (e.g., Singapore).


  2. Andrew, I’m disappointed. It was nice list of observations…..but what is your point. What are ya trying to say! If you’re point is that temporary immigration is important…then ‘na dur’! but I’m sure you can add something more to the debate than that. Don’t be a reporter…make the news!
    But for my take.
    Obervation 1 is a no brainer. Paying tax does not equal extra rights or expenditure. Given the amount of tax I pay, perhaps I should get to vote a few times!
    Observation 2 – not sure if the Indian protests were the first. The Chinese olympic protests versus tibet were pretty savage. Also, I don’t think anyone outside the students really cared anyway. It was all a bit of a pantomine. To the extent that the locals did care, it was only cause we are affected by crime and the limp wristed brigade are doing nothing about it. Also note, Melbourne locals were by and large not responsible for the crimes against the indian students (you can guess who were).
    Observation 3. Overstated. See the Stern Hu case. We just need some back bone tis all.
    Obersvation 4. Very important. An interesting story with a complex web. Governments should be facilitating the welfare of its citizens. A key indicator of welfare is shelter. Shelter is needed to live. But governments are restricting supply and demand is being bolstered by foreign demand. Thus locals are being priced out of the market. Shelter is simply unattainable for local residents. In fact, housing is no longer seen as shelter, but as a store of value. And its having big consequnces – e.g. the ole days a man could support a wife, three kids and a mortgage on an average wage – These days, DINKS need only apply.
    Observations 5 & 6 are overstated as well. I don’t think they bring that many benefits, and I don’t think we’ll sink if we lose em. You know, we were doing ok before they came.


  3. Conrad – On your latter point, while true in principle the Australian born have much stronger personal reasons to stay. We have a bit of a case study here, because the A$ did die in 2001, getting below US 50c. Annual departures did increase over 2000 and 2001 compared to 1999, by about 9,000 for permanents and 10,000 for long-term residents. But in asbolute terms the figures are much lower than they are now. In 2001-02 about 24,000 Australian born people left permanently, compared to 41,000 in 2008-09 – when the dollar was much stronger.

    High departures are the flipside of high migration and to be expected for personal and financial reasons. It is only sudden and large movements that would be of concern.


  4. High immigration rates do not do much good for native born citizens. Even the productivity commission struggled to find any benefits for the man in the street.

    They do have a short term pay-off, in that they stenghthened the banks during the credit crisis. High immigration rates squeezed more debt-service out of accommodation users. That propped up our property market values and got us out of the GFC, ie factorial rather than financial or fiscal policy.

    But immigration rates running at 2% cumulative will have dire ecologic and economic consequences. They stretch the carrying capacity of both the natural and built environment.

    The environment is groaning under the pressure, stripped top-soil. carbon-choked air, parched reservoirs and dwindling energy reserves.

    The same goes for urban infrastructure, with lenghthening queues in traffic, transport, schools, hospitals, parking etc.

    And then there is the double-hit high immigration has on the job and housing market: stagnant wages and sky-rocketing accommodation costs.

    High immigration is great for agencies with high-turnover or churn. Supermarkets. property developers and university administrat,ons. I summarise this with the slogan: degree-mills, sweat-shops and slum-lords.

    It seems that ideological conflicts are now a thing of the past. Social change is all about “who-whom” squabbles over the division of the pie.

    Goodbye Plato/Kant hullo Machiavelli/Darwin.


  5. Interesting observations Andrew. Let me add another perspective from Dubai which might redefine the notion of a ‘large’ temporary population.

    Perhaps 95% of Dubai would fall under this definition of ‘temporary’ or ‘expatriate’ worker. UAE (and most of the gulf) has been built on Indian/Pakistani/Filipino temporary workers. A significant proportion of these people have built successful businesses and enjoy prominent positions in UAE society. However, unlike Australia, permanent residency (or even citizenship) is generally not available to them.

    A very interesting challenge now arises for the children of those ‘temporary’ workers. Having been exposed to a better standard of education, healthcare and social services that would have otherwise been available to them in their parents’ home country, these children do not have the right to remain in the country of their birth. At some point in their life they must return to a country which is alien to them.

    Many that I know (age 20-30) look to countries like Australia for migration so they can enjoy a good standard of living, and gain a sense of permanency for their family.

    Perhaps it is only fair that those who work and contribute to society should be entitled, at some point, the right to permanent residency.

    Conversely… perhaps those with a right to permanent residency should aslo be required to work and contribute for their society (pay taxes, businesses, employment etc). Hedging your bets might be fine for the individual, but is it good for society in general?


  6. Errol – The Germans created a similar problem for themselves with their Turkish ‘guest workers’, who never went back and had kids without proper legal rights. I think this has changed now. But the native Germans were always a big majority; the fundamental socio-political nature of their country would not change by granting migrants more rights.

    Australia has largely avoided this kind of issue, given that permanent residency has been reasonably accessible, and there seem to be high rates of people with PR acquiring citizenship. Kids born here and who mostly live here until at least age 10 can become citizens regardless of the legal status of their parents.


  7. OMG – we actually give citizenship to the offspring of temporary residents. As if they needed any more reasons to breed!


  8. Rebecca – The number of temporaries who have kids without becoming permanent residents themselves, leaving voluntarily or being deported within 10 years would be very small. This seems to be a compromise between letting temporaries try to stay via their kids and the difficulties in sending kids back to countries where they may not even be able to speak the language properly.


  9. “If similar types of nasty incidents started happening to Chinese students, what would this mean for the important commercial relationship with China?” More to the point, China will use such incidents to claim we are being negligent in our care of Asians. And you know where that leads: they will send in troops to protect their own. Yep, straight to Hurstville and Sydney’s CBD. And a Democrat-ruled America won’t give a toss. That’s the insanity of hosting foreign populations: because they start wars.


  10. All I know is that I’ve had a gutfull. The more I see, the more I read, the more I understand that what Michelle (above) says, the more serious is the entire issue. The madder I get.

    Diversity, multi-culturalism, illegal immigrants, baby bonuses and benefits that taxpaying Australian citizens have to plead for – and imported crime-styles that our culture prior to the 1980’s never knew.

    What’s wrong with plain Australianism, its preservation, its value and its development?

    There will be civil war in this country, before the century is finished.

    We can thank the lunatic left. They thrive on self-congratulatory do-gooder experimentation, the same as Gordon Brown’s UK socialists rely on the immigrant gratitude vote.


  11. a Democrat-ruled America won’t give a toss.
    I believe it was Clinton who moved carrier battle groups to the Formosa Straits to put a crimp on Chinese sabre-rattling and the current President who has put more troops in Afghanistan and enthusiastically drone-bombs any terrorist they can get in their sites. WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam Wars were all entered into under Democrat Presidents. Let’s not go overboard with the FoxNews talking points.

    If similar types of nasty incidents started happening to Chinese students,
    But they won’t, because the relevant yobs are worried that a Chinese guy might be Jackie Chan’s nephew and sparring partner. Bollywood needs to start exporting more films were Indian’s are kick-arse fighters. (Though it would be good if the media stopped implying-by-silence that the assailants are all Anglo-Celts.)

    There will be civil war in this country, before the century is finished.
    But we have done it smart: we take people from all over. With the revealing exception of Muslim Lebanese in Sydney, we really do not have much of a problem. (And that is a Sydney problem in a wider sense: Sydney is the city that has riots.) There is simply not enough of a particular group to cohere into a major problem. It is not remotely like, for example, Muslims in France or Britain.


  12. Is Michelle joking?

    “There will be civil war in this country, before the century is finished.”

    Why do you think we never even came vaguely close to civil war in the past century, when we took in large numbers of immigrants (relative to the population of the time) with seemingly ‘unaustralian’ values? Do you know any examples of later waves of voluntary immigrants triggering civil war in a liberal European colony?


  13. As Michael suggests, Australia experiences very low level of racial and cultural tension relative to its immigrant intake in part because of how our immigration is designed and in part because of the accepting culture of natives. That is one of the reasons why we take so many people. Long before we were anywhere near a ‘civil war’ or even just the situation the French manufactured immigration would be much reduced.


  14. The other reason to confer citizenship on children born and raised here is to avoid the problem of creating stateless people.


  15. Caf – who gives a toss. If they dont want to be stateless, then they go back to Gawd knows where. Not my (read our) issue.

    And for all the garbage that Michelle has coped, she is bang on the money. They come here and ‘whinge, whinge, whinge’, is all we hear. If they don’t like it, bugger off. Aussies were doing ok before the international student cash cow, we’ll do well again. If not, we’ll sell em some more dirt! That’l keep em appy!
    Yep, we’ll be at war soon. Not sure if it will be with the Chinese though, more likely with those from the ‘peaceful religion. But where I differ is that I think, bring it on! We need a good war. Helps to sort out the generations. Allows us to get rid of this lefty soft crap and to have a glass of toughen the f$%k up! Nothin like being under threat to sharpen the mind etc.


  16. Ohhh and when I mean soon….I mean within 40 years. That is, we’ll be at war within 40 years…our lifetimes. Who dares disagree???


  17. You do not seem to understand the issue of statelessness. A stateless person cannot “go back” (leaving aside the fact that we are talking about a child that has always been here), because they aren’t considered a national anywhere – they don’t have anywhere to “go back” to.

    However given you are wishing for a major war you are clearly a crazy person so I cannot see any point in engaging further.


  18. I actually prefer Mark Steyn. But am confused Jason. Are followers of marky mark in the mainstream?


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