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Open the front door for a fee

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Monday, 2 June 2014

Most of the people attempting to come to Australia on fishing boats are economic refugees seeking a better life. Moreover, they are from families with the means to pay for passage. They are neither the poorest nor the most vulnerable from the societies they leave behind.

The Government's current approach to stopping them is expensive, vulnerable to developments in partner countries outside our control, and distracts the Navy from its primary purpose. Moreover, it lacks compassion and treats foreigners as something to be feared rather than as potential contributors to our society. There is a huge opportunity for mutual benefit for economic refugees and incumbent Australians.

The solution is to open the front door and allow them legal entry upon payment of a fee.


This idea originates from the recently deceased Nobel Prize laureate Professor Gary Becker, who recommended it as a solution to the problem of illegal immigration in America and the UK.

What he proposed is for the government to set a price according to how many people it wished to admit, then allow everyone who can pay that price to come in apart from obvious exceptions like terrorists.

In the Australian context the fee should be set at a level that makes it more attractive than paying a smuggler after taking into account the risk of drowning at sea, detention upon arrival and being deported. While an auction may be the best way to discover the right price, around $50,000 seems about right.

Becker argues that as well as being a revenue raiser for governments, the policy would ensure that only the most productive and skilled immigrants would be attracted. Having paid the fee, the immigrants would be committed to their adopted country and keen to make a go of it.

He also suggests the program would reduce opposition to immigration by eliminating the sense that immigrants were getting "a free ride". Fees would contribute to the cost of maintaining and renewing infrastructure that others had paid for. Indeed, at the current level of immigration, a fee of $50,000 would generate about $10-15 billion annually.

Fees could be reduced or waived for a number of bona fide refugees fleeing persecution, while those who support the entry of more refugees could raise funds to pay their entry fees. Under this approach, rather than lose your voice at a rally in support of refugees, you could put your money where your mouth is and solve the problem yourself.


Businesses that are looking for specialist skills could also cover entry fees to ensure the supply of highly-skilled workers.

However, the system would only work if payment of the fee entitled people to permanent residence, not welfare payments (unemployment, etc). Such payments should be reserved for citizens, with citizenship restricted to those who had established themselves over a number of years, share our values of freedom and democracy, and have demonstrated their desire to build a long-term future in Australia.

The system would ensure intending migrants were well aware of the need to gain employment on arrival. The most qualified and employable person in a family would be first to pay the fee and take up residence, working to save the funds for other family members. Over time, families would be reunited in Australia as they are now, except that each member would have made a valuable contribution to the economy.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.

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About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is a former Senator for the Liberal Democrats.

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