Terrorism tension prompts thoughts of quiet life Down Under

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2001, 12:00am

With their famed patriotism and economic opportunities, Americans are not traditional emigres - yet the events of September 11 have forced some to consider a new life overseas.

Australia and New Zealand - both perceived as safe, quiet English-speaking nations - have experienced a sudden rise in interest from Americans wanting to leave.

Diplomats say it is too early for the interest to show up in immigration statistics.

'It is going to be very intriguing to see if this sudden burst of activity does come to anything,' one Australian envoy in Washington said. 'We are hearing from people that they have a sudden urge to go somewhere safe and calm. It has really shaken up some people and they are seriously looking at their options.'

Australian offices in both Los Angeles and Washington have fielded increased telephone, letter and Internet inquiries.

Sales of its US$10 (HK$78) migration booklet - an introductory document that includes an application form - have risen from 177 the month before September 11 to 267 in the four weeks that followed.

Consular officials also are being called to register increasing numbers of children born to long-term Australian exiles and consider applications from new American citizens wanting to reclaim their former Australian nationality.

New Zealand has also had to contact Wellington for more information packs as demand rises.

'We are suddenly hearing from people with young families wanting to bring the kids up in a terror-free world . . . this has got people thinking long-term,' one New Zealand envoy said.

The 'can-do' Outback spirit of Australia is a popular media myth in the US, lingering for years after the hit Crocodile Dundee movies, while New Zealand has drawn increased numbers of US tourists in recent years.

The American dollar stretches far in both countries.

Australia has the advantage of being perceived as one of America's closest allies - a position New Zealand has lost in recent years after its anti-nuclear protests of the 1980s.

'Strangely enough we are seen as somehow exotic . . . the way small-town America used to be, apparently,' the New Zealand representative said. 'We are also seen as clean, green and beautiful. We are finding Americans settling in our best coastal spots, building their dream homes.'

Neither country has succeeded in luring large numbers of American migrants.

'I think both nations would like to get more of them,' the New Zealand representative said. 'They are considered model immigrants.'

Only about 1,000 Americans were among the 76,000 foreigners who settled permanently in Australia last year. About a quarter of that number went to New Zealand.

Outside of refugee and family reunion classifications, both countries require solid educational and professional abilities, as well as English-language skills, in routine applicants.