In Brief

Australia considers banning new migrants from big cities

Congestion-busting measures labelled populist gimmick by migration experts and opposition

Australia is considering banning new migrants from living in its largest cities, under new plans to reduce congestion in urban areas.

Government data reveals that nearly 70% of the 186,000 migrants who moved to Australia last year arrived on skilled migrant visas and nearly all of them settled in Sydney or Melbourne.

Currently, about two-fifths of Australia's 25 million people live in those two cities. “The growth has been driven largely by migration,” says the BBC, and has contributed to infrastructure and congestion problems, with Melbourne and Sydney each expected to exceed eight million residents by 2030.

In a bid to limit the number of migrants to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Australia’s three biggest conurbations, five medium-sized cities – Darwin, Perth, Hobart, Adelaide and Canberra – would be classed as regional centres for migrants to settle in.

“This would affect the roughly 40% of migrants who have the desired skills and are looking for work on arrival,” says The Independent.

Alan Tudge, the minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population, said: “We aim to ease the population pressure off the three big cities and more rapidly grow the smaller states and regions.” 

Immigration, long a hot topic in Australia, is set to be a major issue in next May’s federal election, with some saying the new plans are merely a populist gimmick by the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison to appeal to urban voters.

A ReachTel poll published in September found 63% of Sydney residents surveyed said they supported restrictions on the number of migrants moving to the city.

Some migration experts, such as the former Australian Border Force chief Roman Quaedvlieg, said the government would face big problems implementing the scheme, while others have pointed to Morrison’s own opposition to the plans when he was in opposition.

In 2010, he told ABC that it was “false hope that this this problem’s going to be solved because a population minister is going to fantastically move people around like it has never been done before in our history”.

The government has not set out how the policy would be enforced, although the minister for cities said it could include incentives.

There would also be several exemption categories, including migrants who were sponsored by employers to work where they are needed and those on family reunion visas, which also apply to foreigners marrying Australians.

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