- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

MELBOURNE, Australia — Love has the upper hand over labor in Australia, where the government has put the brakes on its intake of skilled workers while increasing the number of visas for migrant spouses.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone recently announced that the level of skilled migrants to Australia will remain at 97,500 for the 2006-07 financial year after an increase of 20,000 in the current financial year.

However, an extra 3,000 spouse visas will be allocated for the partners of Australian citizens this year, bringing the total intake to 36,300, with a further increase of 1,000 in 2006-07, she said. Humanitarian and family visas will account for an additional 59,000 migrants.

“Cupid’s arrow is out and flying around,” Mrs. Vanstone said.

Labor and trade unions have long opposed any increase in the number of foreign workers, accusing the government of becoming reliant on imported cheaper labor.

Glenn Withers, an immigration specialist and professor of public policy at the Australian National University, said: “Migrants create as many jobs as they take. So using the settler program to deal with skill shortages overall is ultimately a self-defeating exercise — akin to a dog chasing its own tail.”

The government announcement comes on top of a lengthy row with Indonesia over the granting of three-year protection visas in January to 42 asylum-seekers from Papua, a territory claimed by Indonesia but roiled by a pro-independence movement.

Prime Minister John Howard appeared to bow to the Indonesian outrage by redrawing rules so that future illegal arrivals from Papua will be forced into offshore detention centers.

But his decision drew the wrath of human rights groups and others, who accused the prime minister of kowtowing to Jakarta. Former diplomat Tony Kevin described the move as “unethical, illegal and dangerous” and said it would lead to further demands from Indonesia.

A government plan for compulsory tests for prospective citizens also has created furor. Under the plan, immigrants may have to demonstrate skills in the English language and knowledge of Australian values before being granted citizenship.

Andrew Robb, parliamentary secretary to the immigration minister, has said he is prepared to “have a serious look” at the idea over the next couple of months.

In a speech to the Sydney Institute, Mr. Robb also said the government was considering establishing an institute of Islamic studies that would help put the religion into an Australian context.

“Many Muslim young people have grown up in Australia, and some of the teachings of Islam and the customs of some Islamic countries have no relevance for them,” he said.

“In the end, helping Australian Muslims become integrated and connected to the mainstream community is the best way to prevent extremists getting a toehold in Australia.”

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