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India-born in immigration system

Abul Rizvi spearheads the points-based immigration system in Australia, writes Pramit Pal Chaudhuri.
Hindustan Times | By Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Canberra
UPDATED ON JUL 30, 2007 01:58 AM IST

In 1989, Australia was the second country in the world to adopt a points-based immigration system. The man who spearheaded the Australian system is the Indian-born Abul Rizvi, a deputy secretary in the Australian government's immigration agency.

Rizvi says there were multiple motives behind this reform.

First, allow a would-be immigrant to make a "self-assessment" of his chances of being a citizen. "This was better than living in fear and uncertainty about what would be required at an interview," he said.

Second, demonstrate the process was "objective as possible" and that such considerations as "colour, race, nationality and religion" were clearly not part of the process.

Finally the idea was to produce an immigration system that would be acceptable to the broader public by allowing "migrants who skills were most suitable for Australia." In other words, being able to "get employment in Australia at high income levels."

Rizvi's team carried out three surveys of the economic success of various immigrants over 15 years starting from 1993 to determine which criteria led to the most successful migrants.

Though over a dozen countries now use it, points-based immigration has its critics. Author Philip Legrain in a new book on immigration questioned the idea developed economies need only highly-skilled workers as if "drudgery has been abolished".

Rizvi avoids the economic case against points-based migration, preferring to defend his policy on the grounds of politically necessary. "Immigration needs programmes that attract political support. This means showing to current society that it benefits from immigration."

Rizvi believes that if many immigrants entered Australia at the lower end of society, the result would be social resentment. He proudly notes that Australia presently allows more migrants into the country than at any time in its 45 year history. Such is the level of political acceptance "the newspapers don't debate immigration though migration is at record levels".

Six members of Rizvi's family were among 28 people who were allowed into Australia under a new non-European skilled migrants quota in 1966. His father went on to teach Muslim history at Australian National University.

He says immigration's future concern would be in how to ensure the movement of tradespeople like plumbers and bricklayers. "Ageing Western societies are already experiencing the first wave of people retiring in these fields. Shortages will follow."

The lack of documentation would be a problem. "Doctors are relatively easy. Most of these other trades have no standardized system of certification. Many tradespeople are less proficient in English. Safety will be an issue. No one wants shoddy electricians. A few accidents and immigration will get a bad name," says Rizvi. "We have to work these out before the crunch comes."

Electricians, plumbers, carpenters and builders are the occupations he expects too see early demand and tight supplies.

Understandably Rizvi worries security concerns are muddying the waters for immigrants. "Security is problem in two respects. One, it is leading to a societal suspicion of Muslims. Two, it is leading to procedural delays in the issuance of visas for everyone."

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