Auctioning Immigration Places

Posted on May 12, 2015 by Emily

Recent suggestions to auction off migrant places to the highest bidders have been highly controversial.

The Current Approach

Each year Australia sets targets for the permanent immigration program. The 2014-2015 program target, for example, is for 190,000 people.[1] Annual humanitarian immigration quotas are set separately for the refugee intake. Since the 1970s Australia has allocated these places by merit. Merit is established by the points test in which points are allocated for skills, education and qualifications, employment history, English language ability, age and other factors.

The Auction Model

Now, it is suggested that these places should no longer be allocated by merit, but instead should be auctioned off to those who are most willing to pay for them. This revenue-raising scheme assumes that it is the people who are willing to pay more who will be the best migrants. However, this auctioning model is problematic for a number of reasons.

As Jock Collins has argued, “free-market economics simply doesn’t appeal as a solution for such an interdisciplinary phenomenon as contemporary immigration.”[2] It is important to remember that immigration policy is not and should not be purely concerned with short-term revenue-raising. Immigration plays a much more important long-term role in nation building. It cannot be reduced to a profit-maximising enterprise because this neglects to take into account the social externalities of migration. It also fails to consider factors such as social cohesion which is “as important a measure of success of an immigration policy as is economic growth, standard of living or productivity.”[3]

Aside from this, an auctioning model also raises considerable ethical questions and the assumption it is based upon is also flawed. The assumption that the rich make the best migrants is not always correct. Many refugees who arrive in Australia relatively impoverished go on to make significant contributions to society.[4]

An auctioning model is obviously flawed, and it ignores the more important aspects of the role and impacts of immigration. Therefore, despite the fact that the points test may not be perfect, “…it is meritocratic, ethical and efficient.”[5]

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[1] Jock Collins, Australia should not auction off migrant places to highest bidders (7 May 2015)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.