Proposal to let migrants buy their way into Australia a 'retrograde step'
A proposal to sell the right to migrate to Australia is a retrograde step that would threaten social cohesion, create a "bidding war" and disadvantage the nation in the global skills market, critics say.
Federal government agencies, the business lobby and ethnic groups have panned the notion of a fee-based immigration system being examined by the Productivity Commission, under which a willingness to pay would determine who comes to Australia.
Proponents say it would generate government revenue, allow for tax cuts and lower the cost to taxpayers of administering the immigration system.
The government established the inquiry in a deal with Senator David Leyonhjelm. He has previously nominated $50,000 as a possible charge for entry to Australia, saying a fee-based system had been proposed by Nobel prize-winning economist Gary Becker.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in May the measure was not government policy and was unlikely to be adopted. But Senator Leyonhjelm was confident its logic would "penetrate government ranks".
In a submission, the Department of Social Services said imposing a fee, rather than criteria such as work skills, family connections or humanitarian needs, risks undermining public confidence that migration was being managed "in Australia's best economic and social interests".
It said a skills-based approach helped meet the needs of Australian industry and employers.
International competition for skilled migrants was high and a hefty visa charge meant highly skilled people "are likely to look to migration to competitor countries, to our detriment", the department warned.
A shift to fee-based entry meant those who cannot pay may have no means of being reunited with family members in Australia, which "is likely to have a discernable impact on settlement outcomes and social cohesion," it said.
The Business Council of Australia said charging new migrants high prices reduced their capacity to spend once they settled in Australia. It said the national interest was best served by selecting a mix of young skilled workers, family and humanitarian migrants "to meet our long-term economic and population needs".
Migration Council Australia said a price-based system would be "a retrograde step" and create a "bidding war" that would undermine the economic contribution of migration programs.
"Willingness to pay is not a predictor of … willingness to contribute socially or economically," it said.
The South Australian government and the federal government's Australian Multicultural Council also expressed concern.
In a submission, Senator Leyonhjelm's Liberal Democratic Party suggested a tariff system would attract migrants who pay higher taxes which, combined with the fee itself, would reduce the tax burden on others and enable more government services.
The LDP said the government could pay or provide a loan for the fee for migrants it was keen to attract. It said family reunions should be selected according to a person's willingness to pay. While some may find this concept "unpleasant ... the accumulation of money is not an indication that a person is less worthy" of family reunification and the current system had hidden financial costs, it said.
The commission's draft report is due in mid-November.