Locating Temporary Migrants on the Map of Australian Democracy

  • Peter Mares


This article asks whether there should be a limit on the number of years that a temporary migrant can reside in Australia before either being granted permanent residence or required to depart.
Temporary migration on the scale now experienced in Australia is a relatively recent phenomenon that contrasts strongly with the established pattern of permanent settler migration that characterised Australia in the 20th Century. As a result, the question of whether or not there should be a limit to temporariness has not yet been addressed in public policy debates.
Drawing on the approach of Jospeh H. Carens (2013), I take Australia’s self-definition as a liberal democracy as a standard to which the nation sees itself as ethically and politically accountable. I argue that a commitment to liberal democracy renders a purely contractual approach to migration invalid—more specifically, a migrant’s consent to the terms of a temporary visa does not provide sufficient ethical grounds to extend that temporary status indefinitely. Moving beyond a contractual approach to consider whether current temporary migration arrangements are consistent with the principles of representative democracy raises debates within liberalism, particularly between cosmopolitan and communitarian perspectives. I argue that practical policy must reconcile these cosmopolitan and communitarian positions. I consider, but reject, the option of strictly time-limited temporary visas that would require migrants to depart after a set number of years and instead recommend a pathway to permanent residence based on duration of stay.


Download data is not yet available.


ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics). 2017. “6250.0: Characteristics of Recent Migrants, Australia, November 2016.” Government of Australia: Canberra. www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/6250.0Main+Features1November%202016?OpenDocument (accessed 24 January 2017).

Carens, Joseph H. 2014. “An Overview of the Ethics of Immigration.” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 17 (5):538-559.

———. 2013. The Ethics of Immigration. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 2008. ‘Live-in Domestics, Seasonal Workers, and Others Hard to Locate on the Map of Democracy’, Journal of Political Philosophy 16 (4):419-455.

Dauvergne, Catherine and Sarah Marsden. 2014. “The Ideology of Temporary Labour Migration in the Post-Global Era.” Citizenship Studies 18(2):224-242.

Deegan, Barbara. 2008. “Visa Subclass 457 Integrity Review Final Report.” Canberra, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australian Government, October.

DIBP (Department of Immigration and Border Protection). 2016a. “Temporary Entrants and New Zealand Citizens in Australia as at 31 December 2016.” Canberra: Australia. www.border.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/statistics/temp-entrants-aus-31-dec-2016.pdf (accessed 27 June 2017)

———. 2016b. “Fact Sheet: New Zealanders in Australia” (online resource) www.border.gov.au/about/corporate/information/fact-sheets/17nz, (accessed 30 August 2016).

———. 2016c. “Genuine Temporary Entrant” (online resource) www.border.gov.au/Trav/Stud/More/Genuine-Temporary-Entrant. (accessed 30 August 2016).

———. 2016d. “Student Visa and Temporary Graduate Visa Programme Quarterly Report: Quarter ending at 30 June 2016.” Government of Australia: Canberra www.border.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/statistics/student-temp-grad-programme-report-2015-16.pdf, (accessed 24 January 2017).

———. 2016e. “2015-16 Migration Programme Report: Programme Year to June 30 2016” Canberra Australian Government www.border.gov.au/ReportsandPublications/Documents/statistics/2015-16-migration-programme-report.pdf, (accessed 24 January 2017).

———. 2016f. “New Zealand Citizens” www.border.gov.au/Trav/Life/New- (accessed 27 January 2017).

———. 2015 “Labour Agreements: Information about Requesting a Labour Agreement’, Government of Australia: Canberra, December www.border.gov.au/WorkinginAustralia/Documents/requesting-labour-agreement.pdf, (accessed 21 December 2015).

DIAC (Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship). 2006. “Immigration Update July-December 2006” Canberra: Australia.

DOE (Department of Employment). 2016. Annual Report 2015–16, Canberra Australian Government docs.employment.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/final_department_of_employment_annual_report_2015-16_accessible.pdf, (accessed 24 January 2017).

El-Zein, Abbas. 2009. Leave to Remain: A Memoir, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.

Foster, Michelle. 2009. “’An “Alien” by the Barest Threads’ - The Legality of the Deportation of Long-term Residents from Australia.” Melbourne University Law Review 33 (2):483-541.

Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. 2016. “Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas” (resource published 17 May) www.kaldorcentre.unsw.edu.au/publication/temporary-protection-visas, (accessed 31 August 2016).

Mares, Peter. 2017. “The 457 Visa is Dead! Long Live the TSS?” Inside Story. 20 April.

———. 2016a. Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration is changing the Nation. Melbourne: Text Publishing.

———. 2016b “Who Gets to be Australian?” Inside Story. 22 February. insidestory.org.au/who-gets-to-be-australian, (accessed 31 August 2016).

———. 2014 “A Special Category.” Griffith Review 43, griffithreview.com/articles/9677/, (accessed 31 August 2016).

———. 2013. “We Know about the 457. What about the 485?” 28 March insidestory.org.au/we-know-about-the-457-what-about-the-485, (accessed 31 August 2016).

———. 2010 “From Pool to Queue: Skilled Migration gets a Makeover.” Inside Story. 10 February. insidestory.org.au/from-queue-to-pool-skilled-migration-gets-a-makeover, (accessed 24 January 2017).

Pezzullo, Michael. 2016. “Keynote Address at Mobility Symposium 2016.” 21 March Australian National University. Canberra. www.border.gov.au/about/news-media/speeches-presentations/keynote-mobility-symposium-2016, (accessed 31 August 2016).

Prince, Peter. 2003. “The High Court and Deportation Under the Australian Constitution.” Current Issues Brief No. 26. 15 April. Canberra. Parliament of Australia. www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Publications_Archive/CIB/, (accessed 4 August 2016).

Reilly, Alexander. 2016. “The Membership of Migrant Workers and the Ethical Limits of Exclusion.” In Howe, Joanna and Rosemary Owens. eds. Temporary Labour Migration in the Global Era: The Regulatory Challenges. London: Hart Publishing.

Robertson, Shanthi. 2013. Transnational Student-Migrants and the State: The Education Migration. Nexus. Melbourne: Palgrave Macmillan

———. 2011. “Student Switchers and the Regulation of Residency: the Interface of the Individual and Australia’s Immigration Regime” Population, Space and Place 17:103–115.

Roberston, Shanthi, and Anjena Runganaikaloo 2014. “Lives in limbo: Migration experiences in Australia’s education–migration nexus” Ethnicities, 14(2):208–226.

Ruhs, Martin. 2013. The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labour Migration. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tham, Joo-Cheong Iain Campbell and Martina Boese. 2016. “Why Is Labour Protection for Temporary Migrant Workers So Fraught? A Perspective from Australia.” In Howe, Joanna and Rosemary Owens. eds.Temporary Labour Migration in the Global Era: The Regulatory Challenges. London: Hart Publishing

Trump, Donald J. “Trump asks his Supporters to Weigh in on Deportation Policy.” August 24 2016, transcript, www.foxnews.com/transcript/2016/08/24/trump-asks-his-supporters-to-weigh-in-on-deportation-policy/, (accessed 30 August 2016).

Walzer, Michael. 1983. Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality. New York: Basic Books.

Wright, Chris F. 2012 “Immigration policy and market institutions in liberal market economies” Industrial Relations Journal 43(2):110–136.