Immigration Reform 2013: 6 Ideas We Should Steal From Australia

One should never be ashamed of stealing a good idea. Steve Jobs certainly wasn't ashamed. So long as ideas were being stolen, Bill Gates wanted his ideas stolen. David Friedman is sad that his ideas aren't being stolen. Stealing ideas is how new ideas are made — everything is really just a remix after all. So let's shamelessly steal some ideas from Australia on how to reform the United States' immigration system! Here are a few places to start.


1. An easy-to-use website

For one, Australia is one of a very few countries where a simple Google search will lead you to a well designed and easy to navigate website on how to migrate over. Only a few other countries, including Australia's neighbor New Zealand, have a website as easy to use.

Anyone who has had to navigate the U.S. counterpart knows how much a site revamp would help in the migration process.

2. A point-based system

Perhaps most importantly, Australia has developed a points-based system that anyone can easily read through and see if they're eligible to migrate. It gives points based on things such as age, English proficiency, education level, and skill level.

The system favors young, English-speaking college graduates but leaves significantly more leeway than the current United States system.

3. Region-based migration

During the migration process it is possible for an Australian state to nominate you. What does this mean exactly? It means that the migrant in question would be expected to move and live to the nominating state if their case is approved. This gives the individual Australian states more say on immigration and gives a unique federalist approach to things.

Australia is by no means alone in having this sort of migration system. It shares this distinction with Canada and several other former British colonies. Notably the Swiss take this approach to the extreme end — naturalization issues are left up to the individual cantons and not the federal government. As such, region-based migration is by no means some new idea, unless anyone wishes to argue that Switzerland, a remnant of the Holy Roman Empire, is somehow new.

4. Family migration reform

Most migration systems favor young (20-30) people. This is understandable behavior for governments, as older people are in the end of their life and will soon stop being net taxpayers as they begin to draw on health care benefits. Australia does allow one to bring over older family members if the sponsor is willing to prove that they can provide for their health needs privately. This is a huge relief for hopeful migrants who have to care for an older relative.

Part of the current U.S. Senate immigration bill would create a limited retiree visa, but said visa would rely on older persons paying for themselves. Australia's system is better in that it allows the younger family member to pay the needed bills instead.

The current U.S. immigration system is certainly more family-oriented than Australia's, but it is curiously also very inefficient when it comes to actually bringing over family. The wait times for U.S. citizens wishing to bring over siblings and other family members over is years or (for those unlucky enough to be of Mexican, Chinese, or Indian birth) decades long.

The current U.S. Senate immigration bill would actually remove many current family-based migration visas. That is reform in the wrong direction. Reform should instead be heading towards removing quotas altogether and replacing it with an immigration tariff. Migrants should be able to bring over family members without waiting lines if they're capable of showing the financial means to care for them.

5. Spouse-migration reform

Until recently gay couples in the United States were unable to sponsor their spouses for a green card. Luckily the Supreme Court's repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) earlier this year has ended this. The LGBT community has made amazing strides in many states, but there are still holdouts and much more work to be done. I would not be surprised if future administrations reversed what little progress has been made and once more put LGBT couples in limbo when trying to migrate.

Australia has sidestepped this mess altogether. It has a de facto partner visa. Is same-sex marriage legal in Australia? No, although civil unions and other arrangements exist depending on the state. Hopefully one day same-sex marriage will be legal completely in Australia and in the rest of the world. In the meantime at least Australia doesn't discriminate against the LGBT community on the immigration front. The United States would do well to pursue a similar policy as a safety precaution against a new DOMA-esque law surfacing in the future.

6. Concluding thoughts

Recently Australia has been in the news regarding its poor treatment of refugees, and by no means do I condone the actions of the current Australian administration. The whole ordeal is too reminiscent of the disgraceful White Australia policy for my taste. Nothing in this article should be interpreted as speaking positively of that aspect of Australian immigration policy. 

I am also an unapologetic advocate of free markets in everything. I am willing to advocate for gradualist measures for freer borders and have proposed some here, but my ideal world would be one without borders for goods, services, and people.

That said, Australia still has one of the best immigration systems in the world and the United States would do well to steal ideas from it.

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Michelangelo Landgrave

Mr. Landgrave holds a BA in Economics from California State University, Northridge and currently a graduate student at California State University, Long Beach.

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