The United States and Australia Compared
Monash Studies in Global Movements series
Edited by John Higley, John Nieuwenhuysen and Stine Neerup
Chapter 1: Introduction: Immigration in Harder Times
John Higley, John Nieuwenhuysen and Stine Neerup In the best of economic times, large-scale immigration is a complex and contested undertaking. It is conducted with an eye to business firms needing additional workers, trade unions seeking job and wage protection, human rights groups agitating against discrimination, immigrant communities wanting more ethnic brethren, citizen groups perceiving border protection as too harsh or lenient, population growth’s environmental and infrastructural effects and, of course, opposition parties trying to capitalize on blunders and controversies. Between the early 1990s and 2008, immigration to Australia and the US took place in the context of steady, at times spectacular, economic expansion conducive to nearly full employment and increasing prosperity. Australia’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) rose (in US dollars and 2009 prices) from about US$31 000 in 1994 to US$37 000 in 2008; US per capita GDP exploded from US$33 500 in 1999 to US$46 500 ten years later. Labour market demand for skilled and unskilled immigrants was strong; immigrant remittances to home countries increased markedly; immigrants moved without great difficulty to communities and regions with little previous experience of them. Swelling inflows of people put strong pressure on schools, health care, housing and other services, but economic expansion and robust tax revenue kept the pressures manageable. Despite controversial incidents involving refugees and asylum seekers, Australia’s immigration policies enjoyed broad bipartisan political and public support. US immigration policies underwent no major changes, though clashing opinions about how to deal with millions of...