Australian immigration figures for 2011-12 were released recently and showed India as the most common source of migrants heading to Australia, surpassing China and keeping the UK off the top spot for the second year running.
So what does this mean for British people considering applying for an Australia visa? Are there less places, more competition?
Immigration figures 2011-12
The Australian Bureau of Statistics' latest immigration report showed that all but two of the 185,000 places for immigrants were filled. While this number consists of humanitarian intake, family visas and other categories, skilled migration accounted for almost 70%, 125,755, of the total.
"Today's skill stream is highly targeted towards employer sponsorship, the regions and high value occupations with over 60% of skilled migration visas going to employer, government and regional sponsored places to help fill critical skills needs," said Immigration Minister Chris Bowen.
Asia dominated the source countries for migrants in 2011-12 with just the UK, Ireland and South Africa being the only source countries from outside Asia in the top 10:
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012.
India has been a major source of migrants to Australia for several years but 2012 marks the first time it has topped the table.
"The scale of recent Indian migration is striking," said Lesleyanne Hawthorn of the University of Melbourne.
"We can assume large numbers were former international students who had qualified onshore."
Upon the release of the figures, Mr Bowen said the government's first priority 'is always jobs for Australians' but that skilled migration was needed to help Australia 'overcome the challenges of an ageing population'.
India's surge in Australian immigration is being attributed to its economic growth, its language compatibility and Australia's education industry but it is India's population that offers the most logical explanation.
While Australia, like much of the Western World, prepares to deal with the challenges of the baby boomer generation reaching retirement age, India's 1.2 billion strong population includes 500 million people under the age of 25 - more than the entire populations of the US, the UK and Australia combined.
What does this mean for Britain?
British people have ranked top of the immigration table since current records began in 1996-97 and thousands of people each year still move to Australia and it is only the rise of Asian economies that have seen the UK surpassed by both China and India.
At the turn of the century, immigration rules were relaxed which saw an influx of non-English speaking students to Australia, many of which chose to remain in Australia and apply for a permanent visa onshore after studying courses in accountancy, cookery and hairdressing.
However, poor language skills combined with the Australian economy's rapid growth has seen an increasing need for migrant workers with English language proficiency in skilled occupations such as construction, engineering and mining and new rules came into effect at the start of July to reflect these changing needs.
Under the new rules, language skills have been given greater prominence for applicants from non-native English speaking countries.
The new rules will make it harder for non-English speaking migrants to qualify under the skilled migration programme while the lowering of the assessment's pass mark means many British and Irish applicants will not have to sit the English test at all, making it easier for more Brits to move Down Under.
Both Indian and Chinese applicants have been aware of the upcoming changes and it is likely many submitted their applications for a permanent Australia visa as soon as possible in order to avoid the stricter rules. While the new rules have only just come into effect, we at the Australian Visa Bureau expect Britain and Ireland to rank higher in next year's migration statistics.
Australia has been steadily expanding its immigration programmes in recent years and the fact that the number of British applicants has been exceeded by China and then India reflects a misleading picture.
Britain's proportion of the total number of visas granted has indeed been smaller but the actual number in itself has remained relatively constant, even increasing in 2011-12:
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012.
So while both China and India have been granted more visas in the past year, the potential for British applicants to move to Australia has remained largely the same and, with the changes only now taking effect, it is likely that more and more British people will take advantage of the abundant opportunities Down Under.
Economies and further opportunities
While the global financial crisis still takes its toll on sluggish recoveries in the European and American economies, the Australian and Chinese economies have gone from strength to strength.
This affects not just the modern perception of a superpower and global influence, it also has plenty of positive effects on a domestic stage: more jobs mean lower unemployment, better state benefits and education systems; the benefits of a healthily growing economy are rarely debated.
However, Australia's growing economy has its downsides too.
Australia's economy has traditionally depended on soft services such as the financial sector and the IT industry but China's emergence as the world's fastest growing economy has ushered in a period of demand for resources unlike no other ever seen before.
As Australia is home to some of the world's largest deposits of many resources including uranium, coal and natural gas as well as gold, copper and zinc, this sudden Chinese demand has created highly paid job opportunities for a variety of occupations, particularly in mining and engineering.
The opportunities on offer have meant that Australians from across the country have flocked to the centre of the boom in Western Australia, leaving job opportunities in a number of other industries.
These growing shortages have created a new demand for overseas workers in industries such as hospitality, tourism and agriculture, industries which have traditionally relied on a combination of locally sourced labour and temporary foreign workers.
The sudden lack of permanent Australian workers have left many employers struggling to adequately train overseas workers before the requirements of their temporary visas mean they have to leave.
One New South Wales farmer said the investment in training new workers was quickly becoming a loss and the few permanent staff members he has have to shoulder an unfair burden:
"My son, recently during our sowing operation, went for three days without sleep largely because we didn't have and couldn't get all the men that were needed to do the various jobs associated with the sowing operation."
As a proposed solution, the Australian government is reportedly considering allowing more countries access to the Working Holiday Visa programme to address shortages but industries have called for stronger measures.
With the labour gap in the hospitality industry alone predicted to grow to as many as 55,000 occupations in the next four years, it looks inevitable that Australia will turn to immigration as a solution to the shortages and, with the new Australian immigration rules favouring native English speakers with desired skills, the prospect of the UK and Ireland continuing to slide down the rankings is an unlikely one.
- Dominic Ladden-Powell is Online Editor for the Australian Visa Bureau
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