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Australia & NZ: The Land Down Under

With tougher laws and controls and linkages between jobs and allowed immigration, the prospects are not as rosy as they were earlier.

Australia & NZ: The Land Down Under
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Destination Australia has never been the Indian migrant dream. Closed to coloured races until the 1970s, most remained ignorant of  opportunities here, and continued to go West. But now, lured by the vast expanses, mild weather and high standards of living, more migrants are willing to take a chance.

Subhash Kumar, 25, an IT worker from Hyderabad is one of them. He arrived in Sydney three months ago fully prepared to start work with an IT company. But there was a hitch: the position he came to fill would not be available until January 2003. Still, he's not worried. He saves money by cooking at home and sits creating programs on his computer most of the night: "Sydney is very expensive, so when my visa expires in two years I would definitely want to go back home."

But there are others who have made it their home: Manjit Gujral came to Sydney from a small town in India 20 years ago. He worked in kitchens, hardly saw his children and wondered whether it was all  worthwhile. Now he runs a booming restaurant and catering business in upmarket Balmain, owns a late-model Mercedes and can afford to enjoy the fruits of his success.

Like so many others, the burly Sikh from Punjab has made good. But will Australia remain a place of opportunity for people like him? In  March next year, Australia plans to introduce new regulations that will give concessions to business migrants, but only if they steer clear of the country's largest and most prosperous city, Sydney. 

The idea is to develop neglected parts of the country by giving business  migrants only provisional residence visas unlike before. These visas will be made permanent after four years once the government is satisfied that the business established in the regional area is a functioning enterprise. 

The proposals came after other states like Tasmania and South Australia began complaining that it was losing business migrants to the country's commercial capital.

Migrants already in the country are not affected by the proposals, but there is some question whether the new scheme will give new arrivals a "fair go" in their new lives. Restauranteur Manjit Gujral believes it will not. Do you think my business would be so successful if I was in Mildura or Wollongong ?" Gujral asks, referring to provincial centers. "Why would I  even come to the country?"

Immigration lawyer, Nigel Dobbie echoes the sentiment. "Migrants make huge sacrifices to come here. Why should they go to other states like South Australia which are not financially healthy. It's like asking an Australian not to go to London, but go instead to Northumberland if they want to migrate. The fact is Sydney is the hub."

In 1788, Sydney became Australia's first city when a British fleet sailed into its magnificent harbor to found a convict settlement to accommodate the overflow from British prisons. Nowadays, migrants come to Australia of their own free will. About 88,900 migrants came in 2001-2002 with most choosing  Sydney attracted by its mild climate, growing economy and existing migrant  communities.

But the New South Wales government says the influx is placing pressures on  the state capital. "We don't want to end up with the densities of Brooklyn  and we don't want to end up with the sprawl of Los Angeles. I like our  lifestyle," says state premier (equivalent to chief minister), Bob Carr who wants to lower the annual immigration intake.

Carr is supported by statistics that show that migrants account for 75  percent of Sydney's annual population increase and are putting a great strain on land and housing in the Sydney basin. Australia attracts about 8,000 business migrants a year, with Sydney  attracting 45 percent of them.

The government believes that by giving preferential treatment to those  migrants who wish to settle in regional areas and set up businesses like eco-tourism, the pressure will slowly lift from Sydney.But analysts believe that the idea has more holes than swiss cheese. "Australia does not have a system of identity cards so once in the country, these migrants can easily move away from these towns and begin elsewhere," says James Jupp, Director of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural  Studies at the Australian National University.

In the 1990s, an anti-immigration party calling itself 'One Nation' rose to prominence, it's leader Pauline Hanson warning in 1996 that Australia was  "in danger of being swamped by Asians." Hanson won a seat in parliament, reviving memories of the 'White Australia' policy. The policy originated in the 19th century after Chinese gold fortune  hunters threatened the claims of white diggers. Restrictions on Chinese and  colored migrants were not entirely removed until 1973. 

Some migrants think they detect echoes of 'One Nation'--and past racism  in the latest policy changes. " I really doubt that if there were Europeans coming in huge numbers they would be able to tell them where to go. It just  would not happen," says Anil Vickramasinghe, a Sri Lankan settler who runs a roaring spice business in downtown Sydney. Business migrants come mostly from Taiwan, China, Malaysia, the United  Kingdom, Singapore, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Laywer Nigel Dobbie accuses state leader Bob Carr of wanting it both ways.  "He wants the vibrancy of Sydney, he wants everyone to live in quarter acre blocks, but he does not want to put money into roads and water."

Tightening of immigration regulations, however, seems popular with the voters and Bob Carr faces a state election in the coming months. And Prime Minister Howard won re-election in 2001 by taking a hard line against asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat. 

Prospective Asian migrants have begun to see neighboring New Zealand as a  more attractive destination. About half of the 52,856 immigrants approved for residence in New Zealand in 2001-2002 were from Asian countries. But in New Zealand the trend is for toughening up controls. In November, the government there imposed demanding new English language tests for all migrants. The government admits that the regulations will reduce the numbers of migrants from China, South Africa and India.

Those already in New Zealand---including people from Anglo-Saxon  backgrounds--are heaving a sigh of relief at not having to submit to secondary-school level language exams. "Many New Zealanders would not pass those tests," said one analyst. But while tighter migration policies may satisfy voters, the economies of  Australia and New Zealand may suffer as a result, experts say.

"Migrants contribute to financial growth--they even create jobs for the locals -- but despite all that we don't want them? We need one million more if these countries are to really prosper," says Nigel Dobbie.

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