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Australia Seeks Skilled Migrants

  • Phil Mercer

Australia is trying to attract skilled migrants to meet demand from a booming economy. Official figures show that 130,000 newcomers arrived last year - with migration from Asia surging. But the largest number still comes from Britain. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The economy drives Australia's immigration policies - geared toward attracting immigrants to fill skilled labor shortages.

Unemployment is at a record low but there simply are not enough qualified staff to call upon. New migrants must be well educated or skilled and have a good understanding of English. Medical professionals, accountants and hairdressers are in high demand.

Latest figures show that almost 100,000 skilled migrants entered the country in the year to June 2006. In the same year, 13,000 refugees were taken in and 17,000 were accepted to reunite with their families already in Australia.

There is a growing inflow from Asia - particularly from India and China. But Britain still provides the largest group of new settlers, followed by New Zealand.

These young British migrants enjoy the challenges their new home gives but still miss their families on the other side of the world.

"I got offered sponsorship opportunities and it was an opportunity that was very appealing and quite lucrative, so I decided to take it," says one of them. "I suppose compared to home, like, we still work as hard and you still aspire to as much. You just have different priorities. For example, people value more their free time and outdoor lifestyle and, yeah, you miss your family and what's kept me here is that the fact that I really do love the country."

"You never quite leave behind the guilt of removing yourself from particularly family, older generations who might not be able to travel over here," says another migrant. "It's not so much an issue for friends because you make new friends over here but you can never make new family."

Immigrants usually have to wait a couple of years before they can become Australian citizens. Those rules are about to be tightened.

Applicants will soon have to take a test on Australian values and culture. They will also be assessed on their ability to speak English.

Critics say the government's plans are patronizing and insulting. They insist the measures are designed to make it harder for migrants from Muslim countries to become Australian citizens.

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