Do we need country quotas for refugees?

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Kevin Andrews’ recent decision to reduce the share of refugees coming to Australia from Africa (and, conversely, to increase the share of non-African refugees, since the total intake is staying constant). In general, it seems reasonable to me that our decision on whether to take a refugee should be based in part on their ability to assimilate, but this seems to be a case of statistical discrimination, in which a characteristic of some in a group is ascribed to all. So for example we get the perverse result that the minister talks about assimilation problems for young African men, but the ban would also extend to a Sudanese woman who had been the victim of rape in Darfur.

All of which made me wonder whether perhaps the department should be thinking about ways of dropping the country quotas for refugees, and developing universal worldwide standards. We basically did this for skilled and family migrants in the 1960s, and it seems strange that we still have country quotas for refugees today.

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29 Responses to Do we need country quotas for refugees?

  1. Doug says:

    The government has made the integration of humanitarian refugees more difficult by its policy of basically cutting out any active role for the community groups, churches and volunteers that supported the indo-chineses refugees.

    All those opportunities have bee reduced

  2. harry clarke says:

    It might be difficult to screen on the basis of ability to discriminate assimilation capacity on the basis of a set of narrowly defined characteristics so you mighyt want to discriminate on a regional or national basis. `

  3. harry clarke says:

    It might be difficult to screen on the basis of ability to discriminate assimilation capacity on the basis of a set of narrowly defined characteristics so you might want to discriminate on a regional or national basis. To take an extreme case you could not discriminate for each of the 20 million refugees currently seeking a home.

  4. conrad says:

    I think the idea of getting as broad a range of different people as possible is a good idea (not that I don’t think the comment of Andrews was just done as a cheap political stunt given its proximity to the election). Perhaps its just a correlation, but it seems to me that taking in large groups of poorly educated people from one culture is more likely to lead to later problems than when more mixed sampling is used. I’d be interested to know if there is any proper analysis of that, versus speculation on my part from looking at the problem groups in Europe and comparing that to other places like the US where the same groups are not a problem.

  5. Vic says:

    I feel an overall population and environment policy needs to be developed -one that set our principles and regulates who lives here now as well as our capacity to take others – no matter where they come from.
    This Andrews issue is just a sideshow. He’s damaged goods, no wonder he was sent out to test the waters and see if one nation voters were biting.
    They are not.

  6. Verdurous says:

    Absorbing large numbers of refugees seems like yesterdays answer to today’s problems. It is unlikely that nations will be able (or willing) to absorb the numbers predicted under moderate climate change models without severe cultural dislocation and tensions.

    Far better to dramatically increase assistance for other African nations to provide (temporary?) refuge to the sick, the persecuted, the impoverished until circumstances change.

    In addition, measures to address global inequality, uncontrolled population growth and environmental pillage are likely to be more useful than boosts to refugee numbers, particularly at a time when we urgently need to cap (and probably reduce) our population. These issues need further work. Australia’s generous refugee intake will certainly help many individuals but will make little difference to conditions on the ground in Africa.

    Where is has our voice been on U.N. peacekeeping/peacemaking involvement in Sudan? Out of sight, out of mind.

  7. Yobbo says:

    All of which made me wonder whether perhaps the department should be thinking about ways of dropping the country quotas for refugees, and developing universal worldwide standards.

    The problem with that idea is that no Africans would ever qualify, because there are plenty of refugees from places like Iraq, Syria or wherever who actually had the benefit of an education and other such things before their countries went to shit.

    And then we’d be “racist” for not letting in any Africans, because they would be ranked lower down the list than 10 million applicants from elsewhere.

    That’s the whole reason we have quotas to begin with, so the usual suspects can’t continually play the race card.

    But as the government is finding out, they’ll just go ahead and play it anyway.

  8. D McCarthy says:

    Got to love the 3rd Grade geographical knowledge of the government and supporters of this prejudiced decision. Believe it or not Sudan is a country. Africa is a continent, a very diverse and very large one at that with over 60 nations and not far off a billion people consisting of men women and children.

    The dodgy and anecdotal reports of some refugees accidentally born in Sudan, have been used to not just say ‘No more’ to the world’s most vulnerable people escaping death and persecution. But officially puts on the record that Africans don’t mix with ‘our way of life’, except of course the white ones from Africa that fit like a glove no doubt.

    To put things in perspective the hapless minister has just had the Haneef affair blow up in his face, and now he has just lurched to lash out at an entire continent of nations and people, based on laughable information which even the cops have distanced themselves from.

    To seize on evidence written up on a piece of tissue paper about a small handful of black boys and men and from the Sudan to suggest all African refugees are banned and using that info to claim Africans can’t mix here – reveals a minister and a government and it’s supporters to have pre-conceived and pre-judicial ideas about black people from Africa. What else can they be basing their position other than racial prejudice?

    If the hammed up ‘evidence’ did not exist Andrews and co would have had to have had it invented methinks.

    Refugees are not choosing to come here, they are forced to as a desperate last resort for survival. A modern concept which people of a backward nature find hard to come to terms with but they will get there one day.

    I could say that all people with vulcan sized and shaped ears are racially prejudiced bigots with poor geographical skills, tempting ….but just because there is at least one I shouldn’t say they are all like that should I?

  9. Seeker of Truth says:

    Kevin Andrews a dimwit a stooge of the Prime Minister,so there is no need for any pros and cons,until the Liberal government has been given the boot

  10. Patrick says:

    Wow, some insightful comments there.

    I believe Yobbo is actually right – quotas are positive discrimination, in this case at least.

    Verdurous, I suspect that climate-change caused population flows are a remote enough contingency from a policy-making perspective. But I certainly support the idea of trying to make the most vulnerable countries better able to cope on their own.

    In that spirit, I suggest we scrap all bans on GM food and all tariffs on third-world produced goods and agricultural products, and lobby for the ever-ready-to-bleat-about-climate-change EU to do the same.

    Also, in the spirit of preserving some semblance of human dignity and compassion, I suggest that as a temporary measure, we continue at about a 2.5-4.5% pa increase in total refugee numbers. We could do this until climate change actually starts to affect our ability to absorb refugees, in say about 150 years. By then we should be able to manufacture about as much water as we care for, so as to facilitate absorbing the climate-displaced masses.

  11. Terje (say tay-a) says:

    I really think we should abandon the direct setting of immigration quotas and move towards a flat universal immigration tariff. So anybody from anywhere could immigrate to Australia (subject to basic health and security checks) so long as they can pay the set entry fee. Humanitarian organisations and community groups could then do fund raising to pay the admission fee for needy individuals. And these private organisations could set their own criteria for who is the most needy.

    As well as moving from quotas to a tariff I think that we should also have more bilateral “free immigration agreements” along the lines of what we have with New Zealand. We should seek to strike a similar deal with nations such as Singapore or Ireland that have comparable levels of economic development.

    More on these ideas here:-

    http://alsblog.wordpress.com/2007/05/17/free-immigration-agreements/

    http://www.ldp.org.au/federal/policies/immigration.html

  12. Patrick says:

    I think they are good ideas – even better would be spending some part of that fee on mandatory english training and a basic certificate (for those that need it).

    I think (that Verdurous and its ilk are fools, and) that we should actively seek immigration, but also actively ‘integrate’ (in the manner outlined) immigrants.

    The climate-change ninnes can take comfort from the fact that this should make us richer, and the evidence is overwhelmingly in support of the proposition that richer people are more willing and able to tackle environmental and other ‘soft’ (ie not real) problems.

  13. Verdurous says:

    >”Verdurous, I suspect that climate-change caused population flows are a remote enough contingency from a policy-making perspective.”

    The thing is Patrick, the flows have probably started already. You’ll be aware of arguments suggesting Sudan’s problems are at least partly attributed to climate related factors. So no, they aren’t remote.

    >”I think (that Verdurous and its ilk are fools, and) that we should actively seek immigration, but also actively ‘integrate’ (in the manner outlined) immigrants.

    >The climate-change ninnes can take comfort from the fact that this should make us richer, and the evidence is overwhelmingly in support of the proposition that richer people are more willing and able to tackle environmental and other ’soft’ (ie not real) problems.”

    In fact, Patrick that is simply wrong. The evidence suggests a change in the nature of environmental harm e.g. from smog and heavy metals pollution to species extinctions, soil erosion, urban waste and CO2 emissions etc.

    The harm of these enviornmental threats of modernity are newer, larger in scale and for the most part, solutions have not been found.

    >”…and able to tackle environmental and other ’soft’ (ie not real) problems.”

    Now, that’s just baiting me isn’t it? Or do you really think that?

  14. Verdurous says:

    Oh, I forgot to comment. I wasn’t aware of clear links between immigration and wealth. I thought that was a difficult issue. Making the economy larger doesn’t necessarily make people richer does it? My understanding was the majority of countries experiencing rapid population growth were quite poor (correlation, perhaps not causation).

  15. Patrick says:

    Ah wee beet baeting. I’m sorry for that rather petulant display.

    In fact, Patrick that is simply wrong. The evidence suggests a change in the nature of environmental harm e.g. from smog and heavy metals pollution to species extinctions, soil erosion, urban waste and CO2 emissions etc.

    I do think that is crap. Do western factories pollute as much as Chinese ones? Why is London less polluted now than previously? Whatever happened to CFCs? Isn’t the first step in any environment-saving behaviour/regulation awareness of it, and is not that enormously correlated to relative wealth?

    I really don’t believe the Sudan – climate change crap. I think oil and arab-style islam have more to do with it. I don’t really believe in any great imperative to do much about climate change, either.

    If it came to such a pass, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t build nuclear powered gigalitre desalination plants and re-irrigate half of South Australia.

    So since I do believe in humanitarianism and human ingenuity, and economic growth as the single greatest driver of well-being ever invented, I think we ought to encourage immigration.

  16. Chris Lloyd says:

    Terje, the discusison is about refugess, not immigrants. But I like your idea about an entry fee. We (are supposed to) accept immigrants for our own benefit. We have a points system to identify the best bets. But normally when a transaction takes place money is supposed to flow one way or the other. Which leads me to ask: Why the hell is an entry visa free?

    Immigrants are in virtually infinite supply. We have a monopoly in Aussie sunshine and beer. And yet we give away free entry to Hong Kong finance wizards who could easily pay of the privilege.

    How about we have an electronic market in immigration points, released by the government say every month. You get whatever points you get based on your skills. And you buy the extra points you need on an electronic market. Which will increase the number of points you needs for entry of course. We’ll make a bloody fortune! I reckon we might get $100,000 from each of the 150,000 immigrants per year. 15 billion dollars per year buys a lot of good public works, de-sal plants, public transport etc. It would be pretty hard of One Nation to get any traction when the “Immigrant industry” became bigger than the sugar industry.

    All slightly off topic I know – but perhaps not completely out of place on a post about immigrations on an economist’s blog.

  17. Terje (say tay-a) says:

    Chris,

    I think that an entry fee of $100,000 is probably around the right ball park. Although if it was too discouraging then you could later on elect to lower the price. The revenue raised would help pay some of the infrastructure costs associated with population expansion but it’s best feature is that people self select according to their economic potential. If they are going to be able to contribute a lot to Australia (and hence earn a lot) then they will be more prepared to pay the fee. Those with high demand skills will be more likely to come here than those with low demand skills.

    As for giving free entry to Hong Kong financial wizards I’d be prepared to give free entry (as permanent residents) to all interested Hong Kong citizens so long as Hong Kong was prepared to give free entry (to become permanent residents) to all Australian citizens. Essentially in the same way that New Zealand and Australia accept eachothers citizens. This is the nature of the bilateral Free Immigration Agreements that I refered to.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  18. christine says:

    Yobbo – I suspect that if you put together a list of the criteria for selecting refugees, it would be rather different from those for selecting PRs in general. Any points system for refugees should surely be aligned with the aims of the refugee program, which are really quite different to those of the rest of the immigration program.

    That said, a lot of those criteria would presumably be country-specific characteristics (massive civil war in your country/region – OK), or at least personal*country (gay in Iran – OK, you’ve got enough persecution points; gay in … oh, I don’t know, Kenya – not so many). So maybe country is a decent rough guide?

    Also in favour of country quotas: I imagine that it helps if you know how many in-country staff you need to process the applications.

    How about a points system that could be applied to countries, and number of refugees from each country is somehow based on those points. The points system for countries wouldn’t change much over time, but the countries which would have higher quotas would change depending on domestic political/economic circumstances.

    On the issue of small numbers of refugees from a particular country integrate better – is there any evidence for this? I am pretty sure that there’s evidence that having an established community in the host country helps with labour market and health outcomes of new immigrants, and that immigrants tend to favour moving to locations with more people from their home country (or even village). I suspect the reasons we don’t want large numbers from particular countries migrating is that immigrant communities make current residents nervous. That’s of course something to take into account, but it’s rather different than saying the quotas are in the immigrants’ interest.

  19. Andrew Leigh says:

    What a fun discussion! As a few people pointed out, this is really about skilled/family migration, not refugee status, if only because it’s not worth setting up fancy systems to administer 5000 entrants per year.

    The Becker-Posner-Terje idea of buying visas has always struck me as politically unworkable (because the government would be unwilling to run the necessary loans program), but Chris’s idea of buying top-up points is a clever one.

    Classically, the environmental issue asks whether there is an environmental Kuznets curve (here’s but one of the legions of papers written on the topic), but the notion that we should be thinking about environmental problems as themselves being a function of growth is one that, so far as I know, no-one has written about.

  20. conrad says:

    “As for giving free entry to Hong Kong financial wizards I’d be prepared to give free entry (as permanent residents) to all interested Hong Kong citizens so long as Hong Kong was prepared to give free entry (to become permanent residents) to all Australian citizens”

    I hope the Hong Kong government doesn’t do this. Australians have extremely high crime rates (the highest in the OECD), and letting anyone in is sure to create long term problems. Why import crime when you can leave it in Australia?

  21. Sinclair Davidson says:

    The advantage of a country-specific quoto is that refugees are not isolated within Australia once they arrive. These are not voluntary migrants who choose to leave home and go to a new environment. They have an attachment to kith and kin and by bringing a group from the some country, the policy ensures some community for them. From the perspective of the refugee, I thnk that is probably a good policy. The difficulty comes in from the other side. How can a foreign ethnic community fit into Australia? Different groups are going to fit in with different levels of difficulty. One of the complaints against the Sudanese is that groups of men congregate in parks, drink alcohol and talk loudly. That is not unusual behaviour, in Africa. Bu in Australia it is ‘threatening’. (I have a theory, but no evidence. Groups of Australian men doing that would likely become violent and so Australians expect such behaviour to lead to violence, but in Africa it need not become violent. So this is about different expctations).

    All up, the migration programme into Australia is well managed, because the government selects migrants. I have a (co-authored) paper here (unfortunately we had no data for Sudan) that talks about migrants fitting in.

  22. Patrick says:

    I have a theory, but no evidence. Groups of Australian men doing that would likely become violent and so Australians expect such behaviour to lead to violence, but in Africa it need not become violent.

    I don’t have any evidence either. But I know that the reason I know so many South Africans is violence in South Africa. I also know that what is grabbing headlines is not Sudanese standing in parks, it is Sudanese attacking police.

  23. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I don’t think anyone is denying Africa is violent – but I am suggesting that men peacefully sitting a park drinking alcohol is not unusual in Africa, but might have entirely different conotations in Australia.

    I hadn’t heard of Sudanese attacking the police.

  24. Patrick says:

    Don’t you read the Herald Sun ?

  25. Sinclair Davidson says:

    err, no. I do read one of their columnists, but he’s on the web. And I do check the fashions after the Brownlow count. :$

  26. conrad says:

    Thats an interesting little paper SD — however, I’d like to see whether the measures you report actually have any correlation with real behavior at all, otherwise I’m inclined to believe your paragraph wondering about what baggage they come with. Looking at the top groups — I’m not sure whether there would be. The Indians and Chinese, for example, seem pretty happy to be industrious, run businesses etc. (which is true of the US too — apparently Indians are behind the majority of IT start up companies), moreso than Kiwi’s and Brits (thats just a guess). Similarly, despite the authoritarian places they come from, I don’t hear too many of the groups complaining about political freedom. So I’m not really sure if any of these measures really mean much, or whether most of the differences are idiosyncratic.

    I do completely agree, however, that even if the differences are idiosyncratic, its probably worthwhile teaching some of those groups the basics when they come — which I realize might cause hysterical reactions if some groups are singled out for it, no matter how useful it is.

  27. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Conrad the paper was written in response to a Quadrant article by Wolfgang Kasper. He had argued that Australia shouldn’t take migrants who imposed high levels of transactions costs on those who are already here. This is a reasonable argument – and less imflamatory than the “they don’t assilimate” argument (despite being identical in outcome). On the measures Christina and I picked out migrants (potentially) wouldn’t impose high costs – other measures are hard to get. For example, it would be nice to get welfare recepients, crime stats etc. by ethnicity. The problem being, almost by definition, migrants are going to be underpresented in those stats simply through the double selection process. Migrants self-select and then the Australian government select. Getting data on those who come in as refugees in difficult. There may be differences between them and other migrants, but I don’t know how or where to get data on that. (Indeed, I would be surprised if it even existed).

    A bigish problem that might exist, I think, is the political explotation of foreigners coming into Australia. So, for example, you hear stories of ethnic groups being signed up on mass for political parties when branch stacking occurs. I fear that many of these people may be told that they have to be a member of a party and so join. I have no evidence that this actually occurs, but a greater understanding of civil rights (in Australia) can’t go astray.

  28. conrad says:

    “The problem being, almost by definition, migrants are going to be underpresented in those stats simply through the double selection process”

    Actually, thats not true at all — there’s a huge variance in the groups that come here, which not surprisingly correlates (not perfectly — which is why its interesting) with those that get picked for work purposes and those that don’t. The last report I saw comes from Victoria (link is below), and it shows that Kiwi’s, for example, cause more crime the locals (which means they cause a lot of crime — and those stats are from Victoria, where the high crime kiwi groups are not exactly flocking to). Some of the results are worth thinking about, because I imangine that some groups that commonly get maligned, like the Lebanese, would be very similar to the Australians if SES was controlled.

    http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/ethnicity-crime/

    There must be newer stats incidentally — as they get rolled out by various people occasionaly when issues become topical (like when we found out that the incidence of rape amongst the Lebanese was basically the same as the normal population — another common misbelief, at least in Sydney)

  29. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I don’t think we select the kiwis. They can just get on a plane and then stay. The department of Immigration used to put out ethnic reports but I can’t seem to find them. Turns out South Africans are very good migrants, work hard, pay their taxes – never complain. :) (OT Conrad, you must be a bit put out, the HK government is lowering personal tax to 15%).

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