Tony Abbott rejects Productivity Commission idea to sell migration visas to the highest bidder

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty.

Tony Abbott has been quick to reject a proposal in a Productivity Commission paper canvassing whether immigration to Australia should be sold to the highest bidders in a bid to generate extra revenue for the Budget.

Fairfax Media reports that the idea was floated in an issues paper on migration intake, instigated in the wake of the Abbott government’s deal with Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm’s to reintroduce temporary protection visas for asylum seekers.

The Productivity Commission floated an option of capping the intake then essentially selling visas at the market price based on demand. There was also a “middle ground” option of setting the price, then managing intake based on demand.

However, the Commission points out that this option moves away from the traditional focus on skilled migration and raises problems with fairness, as the issues paper explains:

For example, Australia’s immigration system has a stronger focus on skilled immigrants, than the immigration regimes in other countries (such as the United States) and this could affect the design of a charging system if the intention was to keep the focus on skilled immigration. The growing prominence of temporary immigration in Australia’s immigrant mix is a further consideration. Implicit in the literature that discusses a charging arrangement for immigrants is that the policy would apply to permanent immigrants, although in principle there could be differential arrangements for temporary and permanent entry.

Charging for entry may also conflict with equity or fairness objectives. For example, under a charging regime, the family reunion intake would be determined by the willingness and capacity of the immigrant (or their family in Australia) to pay the charge, rather than the period of separation or other individual circumstances of the potential immigrant.

Other options canvassed include a US-style immigration lottery and HECS-style loans for lower income immigrants who can’t afford an upfront fee.

At a media conference this morning, Prime Minister Tony Abbott downplayed the ideas, saying “it’s a discussion paper, that’s all it is”.

He said the idea of selling immigration visas to the highest bidders was unlikely to be adopted.

“Everyone knows that the immigration policy of this government is,” he said.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said there were no plans for “significant changes to the migration program”.

The Productivity Commission points out that processing non-humanitarian permanent and temporary immigrant visas cost the Immigration Department around 10% of its total budget – $600 million – in 2013-14

The Commission’s draft report on migration intake is due November and the final report in March 2016.

An analysis of immigration to Australia from the Productivity Commission’s issues paper on migration intake. Source: Productivity Commission

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