Amongst all the heat regarding asylum seeker issues, it is often forgotten just how many people some to Australia every year on various visas. The Annual Report of the Immigration Department contains some interesting facts on this matter.
If you look at all of those figures, the number of people who received residency visas – permanent and temporary – in the 2004-05 financial year was close to half a million. Permanent economic entry visas were 77 880 (increased to nearly 100 000 in the subsequent year). In the family stream it was 41 740. Other temporary resident visas (mainly skilled workers) were 93 513, plus 174 787 student visas and 104 605 working holiday visas.
Compared to this figure of nearly 500 000, in the offshore humanitarian category there were just 13 178 people — only around 5½ thousand were actually refugees; the other 7½ thousand were broader humanitarian cases. Even lower still is the number of onshore refugee visas granted – the vast majority of whom had already been here for years on temporary visas – which was 4 601.
To give the full picture, in addition to all those I have mentioned above, the total number of other visitor visas – tourists, short-stay, business, family visitation, hospital and medical – was 3 588 947.
So we have got over four million people coming into Australia each year (some of them people entering more than once). Most of them are short-stay visitor visas, but around half a million of them are various forms of longer stay or permanent residency. It is absurd that we have this enormous focus and moral panic about a tiny number of asylum seekers who come in an unauthorised way, especially when these people immediately declare themselves and seek to be identified and assessed.
This not only creates unreasonable hostility towards asylum seekers, it seriously distorts our public and policy debate about immigration issues. When we have half a million people coming into our country each year on various forms of residency visas from every country on Earth, we should be giving much more attention to our settlement programs, as well as putting more energy into supporting multiculturalism, so it delivers the effective integration which is at its heart.
We should not be diverting attention by creating false impressions of waves of people ‘threatening our borders’. We already have waves of people coming in each year, and we don’t pay enough attention to ensuring we manage that situation properly.