Migration to Australia hits decade low, seen as boost for prime minister

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The number of permanent migrants to Australia has hit a 10-year low, thanks to tougher scrutiny of claims, home minister Peter Dutton said on Friday, as the government tries to soothe angry conservative voters who threaten its re-election prospects.

The fall will benefit Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has seen right-wing lawmakers such as Pauline Hanson win favor with voters after linking rising immigration to record house prices, denting support for the government.

The tougher oversight meant that just under 163,000 people were approved for migration between July 1 last year and June 30, said Dutton, the minister of home affairs, a fall of 10 percent from the previous 12 months, and the lowest in 10 years.

"We are looking more closely at the applications that are made, making sure that we're bringing the best migrants possible into our country," Dutton told Australia's Channel 9.

The immigration scrutiny aims to ensure applicants have real education qualifications and legitimate ties with people approved for Australian residency, he added.

"There has been a widespread feeling that there has been too much migration, so this will help the government," said Rod Tiffen, an expert in government and international relations at the University of Sydney.

The stricter oversight began last year when Australia scrapped a temporary work visa popular with foreigners, lengthened the wait for citizenship, added a new "Australian values" test and raised the standard of English language use.

With an election less than a year away, Turnbull continues to trail in the polls, though the Australian newspaper's latest Newspoll pegged the government at its best support in two years.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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