Contextualising the real, relevant numbers behind Australia’s migration and population trends.

The migration dashboard was last updated on Friday, 09-10-2020 - 14:20:00

Introduction

This website brings together Australian Government statistics to provide a single source of truth for current migration statistics. Each chart sorts and compares publicly available data to explain Australia’s migration and population story.

All sources are transparently marked and linked. As new or updated data becomes available, we’ll add it to this site. By showcasing reliable data, and making it more accessible, this site aims to inform public discussion and understanding of migration and population in Australia.

1.4%
Population growth
In the 12 months to December 2019, Australian population growth was 349,800, or 1.4 per cent higher than the previous 12 month period.
210,700
Net Overseas Migration
In the 12 months to December 2019, Australian net overseas migration was 210,700, which was 16.5 per cent lower than the previous 12 month period.
140,366
Permanent skilled and family visas
The Australian Government granted 140,366 skilled and family permanent visas in 2019-20.
18,762
Humanitarian visas
There were 18,762 humanitarian visas granted in 2018-19.
2.0 mi
Temporary visas
There were 2,029,721 people who held a temporary visa in Australia on 30 June 2020.

Part One

People

Australian population trends

With the borders closed due to COVID-19, Australia's population growth has slowed. Two components account for our population growth: natural increase (that is, the number of people being born), and overseas migration. Australia has recently had historically high population growth, due primarily to overseas migration, however border closures will greatly diminish the number of new arrivals, leading to a large reduction in overseas migration.

In recent years, migration has overtaken natural increase as the dominant component of population growth. This has led to an accelerated rate of population growth.

The following statistics in Part One: People are sourced from the ABS net overseas migration data, and count actual people coming and going from Australia. Please note, as migration statistics take time to collate, the effects of COVID-19 are not incorporated into a number of the charts below. 

Components of population growth

The rate of population growth in Australia has increased since the turn of the millenium. A higher share of population growth is now attributed to overseas migration, while the rate of natural increase remains relatively stable. From the early 2000s, migration trends changed in response to stronger economic conditions and the introduction of more expansive policy settings. COVID-19 will sharply contract the rate of Net Overseas Migration however these statistics capture until the end of 2019. 

Technical Data

  • Population data is preliminary for three years. This means revisions can and do occur after the initial publication. 
  • There was a series break in the net overseas migration data as the ABS changed their method of categorising migrants. This occurred in September 2006.
  • To be counted as an arrival for the population, a person must be in Australia for 12 out of the past 16 months. This is called the 12/16 rule. Likewise, to be counted as a departure from the population, a person must have been out of Australia for 12 out of the past 16 months. This means tourists who are in Australia for two weeks are not included in population statistics. 

Net overseas migration: arrivals and departures

Migration to Australia is dynamic. Rather than people simply arriving and remaining here for the rest of their lives, people are coming and going. This is a consequence of changing patterns of global mobility.

Australia’s rate of net overseas migration is positive because more people arrive than depart. However, like arrivals, the number of departures is also growing. This group includes migrants, as well as a steady stream of citizens leaving Australia.

The border closures due to COVID-19 will sharply reduce the number of new arrivals, and may have accelerated the number of departures however these trends have not yet been captured by official statistics.

Technical Data

  • Population data is preliminary for about three years. This means revisions are likely to occur to recent data. 
  • There was a series break in the net overseas migration data as the ABS changed their method of categorising migrants. This occurred in September 2006 and resulted in an increase in migration.
  • To be counted as an arrival, a person must be in Australia for 12 out of the past 16 months. This is called the 12/16 rule. Likewise, to be counted as a departure, a person must have been out of Australia for 12 out of the past 16 months. This means tourists who are in Australia for two weeks are not included in population statistics.

Where do people come from?

As migration numbers grow, there has also been a shift in where these migrants come from. The slow demise of the White Australia Policy from the 1950s through to the early 1970s laid the foundation for what we see today: people from Asian countries becoming a greater share of our population.

Technical Data

  • Statistics for the year to 30 June 2018 are preliminary and for the year to 30 June 2017 have had standard revisions.
  • These statistics are based on the Census every five years and then updated annually by the ABS to show recent changes. 

State population growth

In addition to informing us of the ebb and flow of people to and from Australia, population statistics also tell a story about the changing populations of each state.  Australia’s national story looks different when examining state-by-state variation over time.

A common thread globally is the large representation of migrants in major urban centres. This is also true in Australia. At the time of the 2016 Census, 87 per cent of Australia’s migrants lived in capital cities, compared with 62 per cent of Australian-born people. This is not a new trend, with a similar proportion indicated by the the 1996 Census.

Noting a general reduction in net overseas migration for Australia, it is too soon to tell how COVID-19 will shape population trends at a state level into the future.

Technical Data

  • Population data is preliminary for about three years. This means revisions are likely to occur to recent data. 
  • There was a series break in the net overseas migration data as the ABS changed their method of categorising migrants. This occurred in September 2006 and resulted in an increase in migration. 
  • To be counted as an arrival, a person must be in Australia for 12 out of the past 16 months. This is called the 12/16 rule. Likewise, to be counted as a departure, a person must have been out of Australia for 12 out of the past 16 months. This means tourists who are in Australia for two weeks are not included in population statistics.

Net overseas migration by state share

Related to state population growth is what share of net overseas migration each state is receiving, with the trend showing significant variation over time.

Today, more than 50 per cent of net overseas migration occurs in New South Wales and Victoria, with this trend underpinning the public debate about population growth and urban congestion. However, this was not the case through most of the 1990s or later on, during the mining boom.

Western Australia provides the starkest illustration of changing economic circumstances, with a precipitous drop in the share of net overseas migration after the decline of the mining boom. Collectively, the share of net overseas migration occurring in South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT, and the Northern Territory has reduced over time.

Technical Data

  • Population data is preliminary for about three years. This means revisions are likely to occur to recent data. 
  • There was a series break in the net overseas migration data as the ABS changed their method of categorising migrants. This occurred in September 2006 and resulted in an increase in migration. 
  • To be counted as an arrival, a person must be in Australia for 12 out of the past 16 months. This is called the 12/16 rule. Likewise, to be counted as a departure, a person must have been out of Australia for 12 out of the past 16 months. This means tourists who are in Australia for two weeks are not included in population statistics.

Part Two

Visas

Visa trends

The following statistics in Part Two: Visas are sourced from the Department of Home Affairs administrative visa data, and count visas granted. In some circumstances, a person can be granted more than one visa. COVID-19 has had a very immediate effect on how many visas the Australian Government grants to new migrants. It is likely a significant reduction in new visas will remain until after Australia’s borders have reopened.  

There are two broad types of visa: permanent and temporary.

Each year, the Australian Government decides how many permanent residency visas to grant. This is the primary policy-lever the Australian Government uses to affect the long-term rate of population growth. Apart from New Zealand citizens, it is very difficult to remain in Australia indefinitely without a permanent visa.

Sometimes, the number of permanent visas granted each year is confused with number of people coming to Australia each year. This is incorrect. Most new migrants come to Australia on a temporary visa. Because of this, about one in two permanent visas are granted to people already in Australia.

Unlike permanent visas, the Australian Government does not cap or limit the number of temporary visas granted to migrants. Instead, policy settings and eligibility criteria are used to shape trends. This is why temporary visas are sometimes called ‘demand-driven’.

Number of permanent visas granted by skill and family stream

Collectively, Australian Governments steadily increased the number of permanent visas available from the mid-1990s. This was primarily achieved by increasing the number of permanent skilled visas.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Government had already reduced the number of permanent residency visas available from approximately 190,000 to approximately 160,000. In 2019-20, there were 140,366 visas granted, the lowest figure over the past 15 years. With the Australian borders currently closed, 2020-21 will likely see the lowest number of new permanent visas granted since the turn of the millennium. 

Technical Data

  • The Howard Government changed the composition of permanent visas by broadly granting two skilled visas for each family visa. This 2:1 ratio has been maintained regardless of the total number of visas granted each year. 
  • There is no official figure for the number of people who live in Australia on a permanent visa. 
  • About half of all permanent visas are granted to people who are already in Australia. This is called an ‘onshore’ visa grant, and reflects the trend that some people arrive on a temporary visa and then transition to a permanent visa over time.

Population of temporary visa holders in Australia

The number of people in Australia who hold a temporary visa increased from just under one million people in June 2000, to over two million people by June 2018. COVID-19 has stopped this growth. In June 2020, there were 160,000 fewer people in Australia on a temporary visa compared to June 2019. Visitors, students, and working holiday makers have experienced a reduction in the number of people in Australia because of COVID-19. 

There are a number of major temporary visa categories. New Zealand citizens are the largest group in Australia, followed by international students. Both of these groups of people increased throughout the 2000s and 2010s.

From the Howard Government onwards, all Australian Governments have placed an increasing emphasis on the role of temporary visas for Australian migration policy. This has resulted in a marked increase in the number of temporary visas granted, as well as a growing population of people living in Australia on temporary visas.

Technical Data

  • Every person who holds a temporary visa and is in Australia is included in this data source. Critically, not all of these people are included in the official population statistics as some will not meet the residency periods required to be a new addition to the population. 
  • This means caution should be used when assessing population trends, and conflating this visa data with population data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  

Student visas

International student visas have been the major reason why Australia has seen a large increase in temporary visa holders. A strong majority of these visas are linked to universities and vocational education providers. Since 2012-13, student visas have grown by an average of 8-10 per cent per year.

COVID-19 has already had a major effect on the number of new student visas granted. Australia’s border closures have seen fewer international student arrivals than expected, as well as a reduction in the number of visas granted. 

There is much uncertainty about the future regarding international students in Australia. In addition to COVID-19, other factors will shape what happens into the future, including the behaviour of higher education providers, the economy, policy settings, and Australia’s relative attractiveness compared with other countries.

Technical Data

  • This chart shows primary visas, meaning the person who is attending the course and not any of their family members who may also be in Australia. 
  • The chart shows that student visas grew through the late-2000s, and then slowed. This was the result of both economic conditions, and visa policy changes by the Rudd Government.

Working holiday visas

Australia’s border closures mean no working holiday visas are being granted at the moment. This has led to a major decrease in the number of working holiday makers in Australia, as those leaving are not replaced by new arrivals. 

A Working Holiday Maker visa is granted for 12 months and allows people under 30 and 35 from a number of countries the opportunity to work and holiday in Australia. This visa category grew quickly through the Global Financial Crisis and mining boom, as Australia was relatively well off economically in comparison with other developed countries. This visa category has levelled off since 2016, with around 200,000 visas being granted each year.

A second and third year visa is available if people conduct three or six months’ work in regional communities, working in the agricultural, construction or mining sectors. In certain parts of Australia, people can also work in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Technical Data

  • Australia has 43 bilateral agreements either in place or being negotiated, which are the foundation of the working holiday category.
  • People must be under 30 (this is being increased to 35) and the visa is valid for 12 months, with work rights attached. 
  • In July 2019, a third year visa was introduced. This will begin to appear from the 2020 March quarter of the statistics.

Temporary skilled visas

Temporary Work (skilled) visas are employer-sponsored visas, which last up to two or four years. As the visa requires an employer to sponsor the worker, this visa category often tracks the strength or weakness of the labour market. There was a strong dip after the GFC, with subsequent growth through the mining boom. This was previously called the 457 visa. Slower economic growth, together with restrictive policy changes has resulted in lower visa grants over the past three years.

Australia’s border closures mean a sharp downturn for new temporary skilled visas. Some medical and health workers have gained visas after the border closed. Into the future, it is likely fewer visas will be granted as unemployment rises and demand from employers for overseas workers reduces. 

Technical Data

  • The chart refers to primary temporary work (skilled) visas only and not the spouses or children of people who are granted the primary visa. 
  • This visa has undergone significant policy and regulatory changes over time, making it difficult to assess with confidence the relationship between the labour market, visa trends, and government policy decisions. 
  • This visa has a much higher share of people who transition to permanent residency visas than any other temporary visa.

Temporary graduate visas

Temporary graduate visas allow international students who studied eligible courses to gain a two, three, or four year working visa. The visa was overhauled in 2011, laying the foundation for the strong growth seen since 2016. It is unclear when the current rate of growth will change, given student visa growth has also been consistently strong.

Unlike other temporary visas, the vast majority of people who apply for a temporary graduate visa are already in Australia. This means the effects of COVID-19 will not be apparent in the short-term and Australia’s border closures will not have an immediate effect. However any reduction in new international students will have a flow on effect to temporary graduate visas over the long term. 

This visa is considered important by the higher education sector in attracting international students. However, there is little evidence to assess this. It is also unclear if this visa is primarily intended as a student-related visa or a labour-market visa.

Technical Data

  • The figures in the chart refer to all temporary graduate visas granted, including the spouses and children of the person who is granted the primary visa.