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Australia steers immigrants beyond Sydney

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Immigration lawyers here say Australia is the first country to try to keep migrants away from certain cities. But since 1998, individual Canadian provinces have been able to nominate economic immigrants they would like to attract.

The Australian restrictions will not apply to "high-caliber business people," say officials of the Department of Immigration in Canberra. But they were unable to say who would qualify.

Sydney became Australia's first city in 1788, when a British fleet sailed into its harbor and founded a convict settlement to accommodate the overflow from British prisons. Nowadays, immigrants come to Australia of their own free will. About 88,900 came in 2001; most chose Sydney for its mild climate, growing economy, and existing immigrant communities.

But the New South Wales government says the influx is putting a strain on the state capital. "We don't want to end up with the density of Brooklyn, and we don't want to end up with the sprawl of Los Angeles. I like our lifestyle," says Bob Carr, a state premier who supports lowering immigration. Statistics show immigrants account for 75 percent of Sydney's annual population increase, depleting land and housing in the Sydney basin. Australia attracts about 8,000 business migrants a year; Sydney gets 45 percent of them.

The government hopes to lift pressure on the city by giving preferential treatment to migrants who want to settle in regional areas and set up businesses like ecotourism.

But analysts wonder how the new regulations will be enforced. Australia lacks a national identity card, and driver's licenses don't include visa status. So once in the country, migrants can move easily, says James Jupp, director of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Studies at the Australian National University.

Racially motivated?

Other observers detect a strain of racism in the move. Restrictions on Chinese and nonwhite migrants were not entirely removed until 1973.

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