The waves have been hitting us from offshore for quite some time. First there was Brexit – an unprecedented indicator of mainstream England’s desire to pull down the blinds on the rest of Europe, thank you very much. Then of course, the indelible rise of Trump in the US that even the most reputable political commentators swore to us would never happen.
For a time late last year, the far-right FPO, or Freedom Party, even became the most popular party in Austria, particularly with voters 30 years and under. Although their leader missed out on becoming the first far-right head of state of a European country, he came pretty close. And here on home soil, we have sensed the same tidal pull. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party has enjoyed a notable resurgence lately – with one Queensland voter summing it up by simply saying, “I have old-fashioned values, Aussie jobs for Aussie kids.”
Immigration has undoubtedly been the common thread that has run through all these movements, and the issue that politicians all over the world are increasingly focusing in on to secure votes and headlines. More recently, the Australian government announced a raft of changes to the controversial 457 visa program. These changes reflect a clear distinction between temporary and permanent visas, and who can now access these overseas.
Prime Minister Turnbull announced that the changes to the 457 visa program “would put Australian workers first” (with echoes of ‘American jobs for Americans!’ from across the Atlantic.) While the current 457 visa is a four-year road to permanent residency, the replacement is a two-year temporary visa with relatively few occupations listed on it, that will not allow permanent residency at its conclusion. This changes the landscape irrevocably for migrants pursuing jobs and a future in Australia.
On the back of these changes, and with reference to “recent terrorist attacks around the world”, the government has also proposed new measures to “strengthen” the test for Australian citizenship, including extending the residence requirements before applications are accepted to four years, and introducing an English language test.
Early indications suggest that the test’s English language requirements are excessive and unfair. Commentator – and daughter of an immigrant – Jamila Rizvi notes, “some Australians would probably struggle to pass." And yet, is it all too easy to blame all of our dissatisfactions and grumbles by pointing to immigration? What are all these changes to immigration policies actually going to achieve, and to what end? And importantly, if these changes are taking steps away from embracing multiculturalism, we have to ask, is multiculturalism worth fighting for? Is it actually working, here and elsewhere?
Multiculturalism is defined by the presence of, or support for the presence of, several distinct cultural or ethnic groups within a society. Surely the best examples of multiculturalism are in cities where the word has lost currency, due to the endless blending and meshing of cultures over the years.
Global cities like New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Singapore and Los Angeles serve up a wonderful mix of foods, sub-cultures, art, history and people. But we can also see the benefits of multiculturalism clearly in terms of business and innovation.
Without immigrants, companies like Tesla, Uber, Pay Pal and about 40 other billion-dollar global companies wouldn’t exist. Immigrants are in fact 200% more likely to start a new business.
In America, for every immigrant taking on a STEM job (Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths), 2.62 new related jobs are created. Picture this. If you were to wave a magic wand right now, and “disappear” all the people in your life who were immigrants at one point – who would vanish? The lovely person serving you at your local grocer? Your child’s teacher? Your neighbour? Your grandparent? Can we really afford to continue to lump all of our perceived problems together with immigration?
Immigration surely, at the end of the day, is just about humans moving around the planet to be with other humans, and to better themselves and their situations. And risking that ability to easily move around our planet – and the plethora of resulting richness, creativity and diversity – is surely the greatest risk to humanity’s prosperity.