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Australia a 'role model' for immigration

Immigration minister Philip Ruddock says Australia faces growing competition for skilled migrants  

By CNN's Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australia is providing an international role model for dealing with immigration and refugee issues, immigration minister Philip Ruddock said Wednesday.

Many countries, particularly European nations which traditionally had exported people to the rest of the world, now needed to encourage immigration to offset declining birth rates and ageing populations. Asia
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These nations were also facing increasing waves of refugees and asylum seekers.

The world was now looking to emulate the policies Australia has used to become the most successful multicultural nation in the world, Ruddock said.

Australia currently accepts 85,000 immigrants a year, the majority of whom have sought after technical skills and strong English language ability. This year up to 57,000 of those immigrants will come from this category.

The nation however faces increasing competition to attract these migrants as fertility rates decline and populations age in other nations.

Skills shortages hurting economy

Despite a softer labor market, Australia still had skills shortages in areas such as information and communications technology, nursing and finance and these shortages were having a braking effect on the Australian economy, he said.

Ruddock said the new points test for skilled migrants, which was introduced in Australia in July 1999, had changed the demographics of people applying to enter the country.

Last year, more than 80 percent of would-be skilled immigrants were between 18 and 34 years of age and nearly 90 percent were proficient English speakers. And more than half of the skilled-migration applicants had already attended university in Australia before returning to their home country.

Responding to international criticism that Australia treated refugee seekers in a harsh and uncompromising fashion, Ruddock said: "I think it is a bit rich for Europeans to have a view in relation to Australia when they themselves do not have, in the main, a scheme for the resettlement of refugees."

Generous refugee program

Australia was one of only eight countries which had a formal refugee resettlement program, he said.

Ruddock said Australia had 12,000 places per year for humanitarian refugees, a scheme that was "more generous on a per capita basis than anywhere else bar Canada".

"How the world manages refugee outflows is the most significant challenge facing the international community," he said.

Australia has also been pilloried by some for the harsh detention conditions and long delays refugees face upon arriving in Australia. The detention camps have been the scene of a number of riots and breakouts over the past year by frustrated inmates.

Ruddock said that the unrest was caused primarily by illegal immigrants who realized that their applications were going to be unsuccessful and believed that by rioting they would put pressure on the government to change its mind.

Detention policy defended

He defended the right of Australia to detain illegal immigrants until their bona fides and security and health status could be established.

If the refugee could provide proper identification and did not willfully obstruct the application process, then their case could be processed in three to four weeks, and 80 percent of asylum seekers got a decision on their status within 15 weeks, he said.

"Every time someone who arrives illegally in Australia is granted refugee status, it means that a place is denied to someone often in more dire circumstances," Ruddock said.

"Some people think I am tough. It is not a question of toughness, it's a question of fairness.

"Let me be clear: There will be no change to our commitment to the mandatory detention of unauthorized arrivals."

• Australian Department of Immigration
• U.N. High Commission for Refugees

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