Joe Hockey has been privately telling folks there would be no increase in skilled migration. It seems he was wrong.

Remembering that the Howard government has a historical sensitivity about migration, with John Howard himself successfully flirting with anti-Asian sentiment at one stage, the title of “the record immigration government” might sit uncomfortably alongside its crown as “the highest taxing government”.

According to Sophie Morris in the AFR, Tuesday night’s budget will include mention of an extra 5,000 skilled permanent migrants, taking the official quota to 102,500. There will also be $100 million over four years to help humanitarian migrants integrate, learn English and find work.

That comes on top of the open-ended and rapidly-increasing sub-section 457 temporary worker visas and other loosenings of the migration numbers. As the AFR story concludes:

Recently, the government quietly made an extra 4,000 spouse visas available for this year. They will continue to be offered in 2007-08, taking the overall migrant intake with the budget increase to a record 166,000.

There’s no target number for the 457s or the other visas for 457 dependents, but there are 25 DoIC Skilled Migration Industry Outreach Officers (SMIOO) embedded with industry groups encouraging and facilitating their use.

In the December half, 457s were running at an annualised rate of 45,000, but with the extra drive and need for workers, plus the dependants’ temporary visas, it’s not hard to speculate that guest worker visas of one sort of another will hit six figures and keep going. That means a real immigration numbers approaching 300,000 next financial year.

What it’s all about is not John Howard deciding who will come here, but keeping the lid on wages. Without the ballooning skilled temporary and permanent workers, interest rates would already be substantially higher as employers compete for scarce workers.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey