I was on a train recently and found myself surrounded by groups of people speaking languages I didn’t understand. There was a time when I would have felt uncomfortable about this, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself grinning and feeling joyful. I couldn’t understand the words people were saying but I could grasp the tone. For some there was excitement, for others laughter, and yet for others the conversations were more intense.
Listening to people speak in different languages reminded me that the world is made up of many different stories, different life experiences, and different ways of seeing, and I felt lucky to live in a country where those stories, experiences and perspectives were finding expression. I find it amazing to think that those different languages represent centuries and even millenia of accumulated wisdom, culture, and innovative ways of engaging life. Surely if we take the time to observe, listen and appreciate each other this diversity will enrich us, help us see the world in fresh ways and discover new experiences.
Surveys show that many Australians feel that the ability to speak English is one of the most important things that define us as Australian. I agree. One of the tremendous things about our society is that we are able to communicate with each other and a common language makes this much easier. I have no idea what the English capacities of the people on that train were, but I suspect that most would have been English proficient. Yet as I sat surrounded by their chatter I couldn’t help but inwardly celebrate that Australia is not a nation of bland cultural uniformity but a myriad of subcultures that intersect and enlarge us.
The Productivity Commission recently completed a report on Australia’s migration program. It contained some surprising results.
1. Australia receives around 1,000,000 migrants each year
Every year around a million visas are granted to allow migration into Australia. This consists of close to 800,000 temporary visas granted to students, working holidaymakers and temporary workers, and around 200,000 permanent visas
This does not however mean the Australian population is growing by a million people per year, because every year as well as people arriving others depart. Temporary visas holders for example are departing as others are arriving. This means our net migration is around 200,000 per year.
2. The vast majority of migrants speak English
I often hear people comment that too many migrants don’t speak English. The reality is that around 90% of migrants speak English.
3. Migrants are not a drain on the budget
The chart below shows the estimated impact of permanent migrants who arrived in 2015-16 on the Australian government budget over the next 50 years. It shows is that for the bulk of their time here skilled and family migrants contribute more to the budget in taxes than they take from it in welfare. This only begins to work the other way once they reach retirement age, were like almost all Australians they receive more in benefits than they paid taxes. The one exception to this people who enter Australia on a humanitarian visa (e.g. refugees) who on average will receive more benefits from the government then they paying taxes. Again however it should be remembered that this is true of most lower income Australians.
4. England and New Zealand are our two top sources of migrants
5. Our humanitarian intake has remained relatively constant in numerical terms but is declining as a proportion of our total immigration program and our population