Sunday, November 3, 2013

Immigrants to Australia "banished" temporarily to rural reaches

That is one of my takeaways from this story about a Pakastani comic who recently immigrated to Australia.  Matt Siegel, in his Saturday Profile of Sami Shah in the New York Times, writes that he and his wife and child were able to immigrate on a "skill migrant visa" because his wife, a psychologist, studied in Australia and has relatives there:  
There was, however, a catch. 
To provide services to rural communities, Australia sometimes requires migrants with certain skills to live in small towns for the first two years, after which they are free to move anywhere. 
“I’m on a visa that says I can live in Australia for two years, but I have to spend those two years in regional Western Australia,” he told the audience. “Which lets me live in Australia for two years, but makes me feel like I never left a third-world country in the first place.”
I found interesting how Shah makes rural Australia the butt of a joke, and Seigel's story goes on to describe Northam, the city of about 6,500 in Western Australia where Shah lives, in a way that sounds like a similarly sized population cluster in the middle of America:
Northam’s social life revolves around the pub or the high school parking lot, where residents gather next to their pickup trucks for beer-fueled weekend afternoons watching the local Australian-rules football team.
Northam is in the state's wheat belt, about 60 miles northeast of Perth, where Shah occasionally performs.  Northam is also home to a detention center that houses 600 asylum seekers.  Shah and his family plan to move to Melbourne after their two years of banishment to rural Australia are done.

Also of interest is Australia's policy of using skilled immigrant labor to serve its under-served rural and regional populations.  It may not be different to what happens as a practical matter to many highly skilled immigrants into the United States--South Asian physicians, for example, going to practice in nonmetropolitan locales.

This joke from Mr. Shah is also interesting for what it says not only about Australian attitudes toward immigrants, but also shifting perceptions of the merits of white workers (read more about the latter here, here, and here in the U.S. context).  Shah's joke goes like this:
“They’re illegal immigrants. They’re taking our jobs. I hear that one a lot,” he told the audience, interjecting the odd expletive for emphasis. “What do we do?” Try being better at your job, he counseled. 
“If a guy who’s spent the last two weeks on a boat, can’t speak the language, lost half his family on the trip over, then spent two years in Nauru can take your job away from you,” he told his listeners, then they should lift their game by upgrading their LinkedIn profiles. “That’s all I’m saying.”

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