Canberra — Some called it the 'last amnesty." It marked the third time in seven years the Australian government has tried to get illegal immigrants to come forward and voluntarily "regularize" their immigrant status.
And it was by far Australia's most serious attempt to persuade illegal immigrants to come forward. Launched last June and expiring at midnight Dec. 31 , the campaign was backed by massive publicity and occasional "success" stories, like that of the two English immigrants who had deserted their ships in Queensland 50 and 60 years earlier and finally received their naturalization papers.
The warning that this was the "last ever" amnesty for illegal immigrants was bolstered by special legislation designed to block government from declaring amnesties in the future. The new law removes rights of appeal from illegal immigrants who are ordered to be deported.
Compared with two previous campaigns, the amnesty was a success. It attracted 14,000 illegal immigrants, compared with only 11,000 in the previous amnesties combined.
Only one of the 14,000 will not be granted permanent immigrant status. the exception is an escapee from a prison for the criminally insane, who is wanted for questioning about a murder in West Germany.
But officials were not overjoyed with the response. They had estimated there were at least 40,000 illegal immigrants in Australia, consisting mainly of people who had overstayed visitor, student, or tourist visas.
The government hasn't spelled out its next tactic for trying to find the missing 26,000, though officially it is taking a tough line. One of the officials involved in the campaign has said that for many who were still in hiding, "It would not be a case of special dispensations but of special deportations."
However, any thorough campaign to find the illegal immigrants is unlikely. The federal government is trying to reduce its own spending and is using staff cuts to do so. The immigration department won't be able to put any extra men in the field to find the illegals.
In the past all the department has been able to do is run an occasional sweep through various immigrant enclaves -- Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek, Turkish -- trying to flush out those without formal citizenship.
Those sweeps have not been very successful as many immigrants don't bother to seek citizenship but do have immigration papers in order. Most illegal immigrants simply avoid trouble by paying their taxes and avoiding political activities or contact with police or social welfare authorities.
Officials said that they had not yet completed a full analysis of those who came forward in response to the 1980 amnesty, but the main groups represented in the applicants for regular immigrant status appea red to be English, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, and Greek.