Immigration has played a central role in Australia's population growth and economic development. The first record of Australian immigration is thought to be well over 50,000 years ago when the ancestors of Indigenous Australians arrived via the islands of the Malay Archipelago and New Guinea.
From the early 1600s onwards the continent witnessed the first coastal landings and exploration by Europeans, however permanent European settlement only began from 1788 with the establishment of the British Crown colony of New South Wales on January 26, a date now known as 'Australia Day'. After losing the United States, Britain needed a new penal colony to relocate convicts from its overcrowded prisons, thus European settlement began with a group of petty criminals, second-rate soldiers and a crew of sailors.
Around 160 000 men and women were brought to Australia from 1788 until penal transportation ended in 1868. The convicts were also joined by free immigrants from the early 1790s.
Scarcity of labour, vastness of land and the thought of new wealth based on farming, mining and trade made Australia a land of opportunity. Many settlers endured the long and arduous sea voyage, motivated by the prospect of making a new life on virtually free Crown land. In 1851 Australia hosted a Gold rush era, leading to an enormous expansion in population, including large numbers of British and Irish settlers, followed by smaller numbers of Germans, other Europeans and Chinese. After Federation in 1801, the White Australia policy was created to counteract the immigration of non-whites.
Following World War II, Australia launched a massive immigration programme, believing that having narrowly avoided a Japanese invasion, Australia must "populate or perish." Hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans migrated to Australia and over 1,000,000 British Citizens immigrated under the Ten Pound Poms scheme.
This upsurge of immigration had a significant effect on the character of Australian society, which before the war had been monocultural, inward-looking, and conservative. Immigration was still mostly limited to Europeans, though the White Australia Policy was gradually eased from the 1950s onwards.
During the 1970s, millions of refugees and migrants arrived in Australia, beginning a policy of multiculturalism. Minister of Immigration Al Grassby was first to introduce the term "multiculturalism", speaking of the merits of "ethnic pluralism", where "each ethnic group desiring it, is permitted to create its own cultural heritage indefinitely, while taking part in the general life of the nation". The development of Australia's multicultural policy was heavily influenced by the Galbally Report of 1978, which addressed various issues with living in and planning for a multicultural Australian society.
Today, Australia is one of the most multicultural and diverse nations in the world. Over 200 languages are spoken, with English the common language. Nearly a quarter of the population was born in another country, compared to over 10 percent in the US and over 17 percent in Canada.
As Australia's economy evolves, so does the approach on migrant intake. Three sets of criteria have been identified as the bases for selecting permanent immigrants:
The number of people admitted to each program is decided each year after community consultations. Visas are required for temporary entrants including skilled workers, visitors, students, and working holiday makers.