As someone who grew up in Vanuatu, I know a thing or two about island fever, and right now, Australia is suffering from it. I’m talking about the psychological distress, dysfunction, or disorder that causes abnormal thoughts and feelings when you realise you’re going nowhere.
COVID has caused many of us to suffer this affliction. My husband, a Colombian and Australian citizen, is wondering when he will see his father, who has Alzheimer’s, again. He wants to be able to have a face-to-face meeting with his dad again before it is too late. My father-in-law no longer recognises his son.
We’ve made the difficult decision to stay in Australia, but other friends, amongst them Latin Americans and Brits, have had enough of island fever. Many are leaving, often heading to live in places where COVID case numbers can be up to 20,000 a day. The pull of family is strong for many.
In fact, Australia is forecast to experience an outflow of Net Overseas Migration for the next two years. It was -97,000 in 2020-21 and will be -77,000 in 2021-22, down from an inflow of +194,000 in 2019-20.
As a migration consultant, my company has at least 10 families prepared to pay $50,000 per person for the privilege of bringing a parent to live in Australia. It takes a village to raise a child, and grandparents are sorely needed to ease the burden of home schooling and let parents get back to earning and contributing (taxes and more) to Australia.
Out of 77,300 places allocated to family visas in this year’s budget, only 4,500 are going to parent visas. These families, despite being willing to pay upfront, are still waiting for an outcome because the backlog of applications means only those lodged in 2016, 5 years ago, are now being looked at.
Migration issues surrounding COVID are not just causing micro issues for families. There are macro problems at play in our economy. Australia is at best a working population of about 12 million. Migrants pay taxes and considering that many who work in the aged care sector are migrants, temporary or otherwise, how is our ageing population going to be supported in the future?
Then there’s the cultural impact of the outflow of migrants – a vibrant and dynamic mix of cultures provide excitement, motivation, and flavour across our communities.
We need to encourage our migrants to stay and continue to contribute to the economy and to our culture. So, what needs to happen? There are two simple levers the government could pull to ensure our migrant community doesn’t flee from island fever.
First, the parent visa numbers need to be increased and the process sped up. At least allow those who have applied for a parent visa to be able to come into the country on a long-term visitor visa or temporary parent visa.
Second, when it comes to skilled migrants, given their diminishing number, we need to set a date to allow more temporary workers to enter Australia, prioritised over tourists.
If we want to keep our existing skillsets in the country and attract the best and the brightest talent to Australia, the government needs to get its act together. Our current four-stage plan out of COVID with no timeline doesn’t cut it. It’s high time this island’s government woke up from its own fear of losing the next election.