Migration profile shaped by economics

The 2010s saw a significant sea change in Australia’s migration profile.

For the first time, people from China and India topped the list of the most numerous new migrants.

Previously, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Indonesia were the top three sources of migrants, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data.

Over the decades, migration program planning numbers have fluctuated according to the priorities and economic and political considerations of the government of the day. 

But the Australian Government’s immigration policy focus has changed markedly since 1945, when attracting general migrants, mostly from the UK, was the priority - to focus on attracting economic migrants and temporary skilled migrants.

Currently, the planned cap for the Migration Program is 160,000 places. It reached a record high of 190,000 in 2012–13, with skilled migrants comprising the majority.

One of the most significant developments in the dynamics of migration to Australia since the late 1990s has been the growth in temporary migration.

The net migration gain from long-term temporary movement exceeded the permanent movement in 1999–00 and there have been recorded numbers of temporary entrants since then.

Many of these entrants arrived on either student or temporary skilled work visas – or subclass 457.

Unlike the permanent Migration Program, the level of temporary migration to Australia is not determined or subject to quotas or caps by Government but is demand-driven.  

The 457 visa also provides a pathway for skilled workers and their dependents to apply for permanent residence and many students are also eligible to apply for permanent visas under the Migration Program at the completion of their courses.

The largest contribution to net overseas migration (NOM) in recent years has been from people on temporary visas - mostly comprised of overseas students and temporary skilled migrants.

As a result, the rate of Australia’s population growth has increased significantly over the few years largely driven by an increase in NOM.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia was on track to hit somewhere between 35 million and 45 million by 2056.

Victoria was projected to have a total population of 9.9 million and NSW 11.1 million by then.

The pandemic stopped the inflow of migrants in its tracks. However, Australia’s migration intake seems set to soar in the wake of the pandemic.

The federal government is set to increase the size and change the mix of Australia’s migration program following data that shows the living standards of ordinary Australians will fail to keep up with much of the developed world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has confirmed a change in immigrant numbers and composition is being considered.

Meanwhile, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has called for skilled migration to nearly double to 200,000 people a year.

Stay tuned for more migrant stories: