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Australia steers immigrants beyond Sydney

Visa regulations going into effect in March seek to steer new arrivals toward other parts of the country.

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It's a migrant fairy tale: He came to Sydney from a small town in India, worked in kitchens, hardly saw his children, and wondered at times whether it was all worthwhile.

But now, Manjit Gujral runs a booming restaurant and catering business in upmarket Balmain, owns a late-model Mercedes-Benz, and enjoys the fruits of his success.

Like so many new arrivals to this country, the burly Sikh from Punjab, India, has made good. But visa regulations scheduled to take effect by March have many wondering if Australia will remain a place of opportunity for people like Mr. Gujral.

Under the new legislation, business immigrants will receive concessions designed to make it easier to get work visas quickly - but only if they steer clear of the country's largest and most prosperous city, Sydney. That's because states like Tasmania and South Australia began complaining during the past decade that they were losing business migrants to the country's commercial capital. The regulations aim to develop neglected areas by giving business migrants only provisional residence visas. Those will be made permanent after four years - once the government is satisfied their business is a functioning regional enterprise.

Migrants already here are not affected by the proposals. But questions are arising over whether the scheme will give new arrivals a "fair go."

"Do you think my business would be so successful if I was in [a provincial center like] Mildura or Wollongong?" Gujral says. "Why would I even come to the country ?"

Immigration lawyer Nigel Dobbie agrees. "Migrants make huge sacrifices to come here," he says. "Why should they go to other states, like South Australia, which are not financially healthy? It's like asking an Australian not to go to London, but go instead to Northumberland if they want to migrate. Sydney is the hub."

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