Are planes the new boats?

Pretty young female manager or business partner shaking hand of worker

It has been known for some time that the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by plane far exceeds the number of boat arrivals. It is also well known that the percentage who are found to be genuinely in need of protection is much lower for the plane arrivals.

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally has several times criticised the government for allowing what she describes as a “labour market scam”, under which people from certain countries, principally Malaysia but including also China and India, are recruited by criminal elements in Australia to obtain visitor visas (which Malaysian citizens can apply for easily online) and apply for protection visas after they arrive in Australia. Providing they make it through immigration clearance at the airport, they are entitled to a bridging visa with permission to work while their application is processed. If the protection visa is refused, the bridging visa is extended while they apply for review in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. After that, an appeal to the Federal Circuit Court gains them another bridging visa with work rights, and potentially that can be extended through further appeals up to the High Court. For a relatively modest outlay in application fees a determined applicant could remain in Australia for five years or more.

Senator Keneally argues that these people are being exploited by the organisers of the scam who keep them uninformed about their rights and force them to work in underpaid jobs with substandard conditions and even in some cases sexually exploit them. She also points out that the increasing backlog in the assessment and appeals processes disadvantages genuine asylum seekers.

Other commentators, including legal and other experts, warn against any form of crackdown for the reason that it could make it harder for genuine asylum seekers to get the protection they need. This same argument has been raised against the long-standing total crackdown on boat arrivals but has fallen on deaf ears in all of the major political Parties, including Senator Keneally’s.

The first two decades of this century have seen dramatic new patterns emerging in human migration across the globe. Australia’s supposed woes are miniscule compared with the US-Mexico border or the Mediterranean Sea, but that could be a reason why we should be in a better position to commence a re-think of the underlying assumptions about migration that have not been challenged since the beginning of the last century. Should the mass movement of people necessarily be seen as a threat to the receiving countries? Is a highly bureacratic selection system really the best way to choose migrants to a country like ours? Last, but by no means least, shouldn’t we be thinking about why so many people feel it necessary to leave their homelands, and is there more we could be doing to help fix the problems they are running away from?


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