For the first time in its modern history, Australia has accepted more Chinese than British immigrants. Last year authorities in Canberra granted permanent residency visas to almost 30,000 migrants from China, compared with fewer than 24,000 from Britain.
For years the British were the largest group of migrants arriving in Australia, along with New Zealanders. China’s rise to the top of the list of new settlers is a sign of Australia’s growing ethnic diversity and the importance of Asia in the immigration program.
Australia’s population is approaching 23 million people, about one quarter of whom were born overseas.
The Chinese have had a long history in Australia. In the mid 1800s, thousands of Chinese laborers flocked to the recently discovered gold fields of Victoria and New South Wales despite racist policies, along with entry taxes and languages tests, that attempted to restrict their numbers.
In more recent times tens of thousands of Chinese students were allowed to settle in Australia following the Tiananmen Square uprising by pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing. Large numbers of residents from Hong Kong were later granted Australian visas following the end of British colonial rule and the transfer of sovereignty to China.
These days Chinese students are present in vast numbers at Australian universities and colleges. Other skilled migrants from China are being actively recruited by Australian businesses.
Daphne Lowe Kelley, the head of the Chinese Heritage Association in Sydney, says many well-qualified young Chinese migrants are choosing to stay in Australia instead of returning home.
“Many of them are already skilled and also the other thing is many of them are being educated here, so their skills and their qualifications if they are the result of an Australian education institution mean that they are widely accepted. Many of those decide to apply for permanent residence,” Kelley stated.
Chinese migrants on the rise
Chinese migrants now make up about three percent of the Australian population, which is more than the Aboriginal community.
Academics point out that not all Chinese migrants are from China. Australia has granted visas to significant numbers of ethnic Chinese migrants from Southeast Asia, including Malaysia and Indonesia.
Commercial ties are also building closer bonds between Beijing and Canberra. China is Australia’s largest trading partner and, while exports of iron are fueling China’s rapid industrialization, they have also fortified the Australian economy from the global recession.