Much research on the labour market situation of migrants is marked by a narrow ahistorical approach, which deals with single characteristics of migrant workers, and is based on the assumption that they can and do behave as "economic men and women”. In contrast, this paper proposes an approach which deals with labour migration to Australia as part of worldwide historical patterns of economic and social change. The migratory process is closely linked to changes in the international division of labour, which lead to concentration of capital, means of production and workers in certain areas. The latest stage, the so-called "new migration", arises through current trends towards industrialisation of Third World countries, which transforms social structures, leading both to increased industrial employment and to emigration, particularly of women. This matches shifts in economic structures in developed countries, which create a polarised demand both for highiy-skilled and low-skilled migrant labour. In the case of Australia, this dualism is partially subsumed in the categories "skilled and business" and "family" migration.

It is important to analyse the labour market situation of specific groups in the context of such overall trends. Most studies in this area indicate that certain groups, defined on criteria of ethnicity and gender, have below average levels with regard to most labour market indicators. There is disagreement on the significance and the causes of these differences. This paper suggests that disadvantaged groups are also most affected by further factors which are hard to measure: hidden unemployment, underemployment, early withdrawal from the workforce, occupational health problems, marginal self-employment and informal sector work.

The policy implications of this analysis are the need for a well-balanced immigration program, linked to improved post-arrival services and multicultural policies. Programs to combat marginalisation of specific ethnic and gender groups on the labour market must be closely linked to general programs for the relocation and re-training of workers affected by economic restructuring and technological change.