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Open the gates to humanitarian migrants?

Jessica Irvine in the SMH suggests that we simply “open the gates” to all refugees/asylum seekers. There are around 40 million of them but her argument seems to be that we are a rich country and the demand for entry to Australia specifically is currently only of the order of 50,000 per year.  Of course demand for immigration by humanitarian migrants will be low because of the low scale of the current quota.  With open door policies it would be vastly higher.  Irvine is reproducing the same wrong argument that is used to criticise offshore processing policies – why bother when there are only several thousand boat people per year.  Again without current restrictions the number of boat people will be vastly higher.

It is interesting that although Irvine argues for open door on the basis of economic gains she rejects outright the claim that increasing the humanitarian quota to 20,000 would be too expensive not on the grounds that to do so would be too expensive (it would, in fact be very expensive*) but on the feeble argument that “nobody can put a price on lives”. Why not then drop the nonsensical and hypocritical claim that such a move would be economically beneficial and simply say that anyone can come to Australia because you cannot price human life? Because that is what Irvine’s argument reduces to in the absence of implied economic or other benefits.

Of course the more fundamental reason for not admitting anyone who wishes to come to Australia is the disastrous implication this would have for the functional distribution of income between labour and property.  An even more fundamental reason for objecting to the Irvine proposal is that most of the current residents of Australia would not want such an influx of people.  I don’t.  The views of current Australians are of importance when considering immigration policy.

* There are pervasive adverse selection incentive issues that arise when open door policies are offered to a country with a generous social welfare system.  Many humanitarian migrants have low skills – particularly English language skills – that are expensive to impart.  Admitting many unskilled migrants would have employment consequences that fell hardest on unskilled members of the Australian workforce.

1 comment to Open the gates to humanitarian migrants?

  • TomT

    Exactly. It’s intriguing that Jessica Irvine didn’t make the connection that a “open-door”, no quota policy would send humanitarian visa applications skyrocketing. I fail to see why that wouldn’t be the case with 40 million displaced people throughout the world.

    The issue of unskilled humanitarian migrants/refugees is one that often gets lost in this debate, or largely ignored by those that advocate onshore processing. Not only does it have implications for Australia’s proportion of unskilled workers, but also our welfare programs (as you rightly point out) and public services. With “open-door” policies, I’m unsure where the funding would come from immense increased pressure on public health and education for example. The Government would either have to forget about their largely manufactured budget surplus, or increase taxpayer funding. Neither, I assume, would sit well with the Australian population.

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