Ingredients for successful integration

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 2 September 2011

One popular concern about Australia’s growing population is to maintain social cohesion in a ‘Big Australia.’ The influx of migrants from different countries, with different religions and different cultures, understandably brings with it the fear that the newcomers may not become part of mainstream society and remain segregated.

That’s exactly what many European countries are experiencing with their migrant populations. In fact, the idea of multiculturalism had been declared failed and dead by Europe’s leading politicians.

So do we have to be worried about similar developments here?

Maybe not. Although some fears about integrating migrants may be valid, Australians should be more confident. So far, we have proven extremely good at integration, unlike Europe.

Where migrants in many European countries are, on average, more unemployed, more criminal, and less educated than mainstream society, it is the exact opposite in Australia with all these indicators. Australia’s migrant population commands higher household incomes, their children score marginally better in school tests, and they are also a little less criminal than the Australian-born part of society.

Yes, there are differences between different groups of migrants, but the overall migration and integration experience has been positive. To continue benefitting from migration, we need to understand the secret of Australia’s success – and the reason of Europe’s failure.

Australia as a traditional destination for migrants is a more open and receptive country compared to Europe. The crucial difference, however, lies in the skills-based selection process — which Europe doesn’t have. Europe’s low-skilled migrants have few job opportunities and end up relying on welfare.

Australia, on the other hand, has ensured through its points-based immigration system that migrants have knowledge of English, are educated (or skilled), and employable. Welfare-dependent migrants have little incentive to engage with society. There are no colleagues whose language they would need to understand. Labour market participation is the best guarantee of successful integration.

Instead of fearing migration, Australia should expand it with a rigorous screening and selection process through the points-based visa system.

This is one Australian story worth repeating.

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