Making sense of migration statistics

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Making sense of migration statistics

Posted 31/08/2010 by Michael Klapdor

Many statistics on both permanent and temporary migration are often used incorrectly and add to the confusion and misinformation regarding migration levels and population growth. This new Background Note, Migration to Australia since federation: a guide to the statistics, offers an easy entry-point to the relevant data on migration flows to Australia. The guide also offers background information on Australia's migration programs and on the reliability and use of different statistical sources.


The Background Note shows that the rate at which Australia's population has grown has increased significantly over the last five years, largely driven by an increase in net overseas migration (NOM). NOM data is commonly used to describe migration levels, but it is not actually a measure of the number of permanent migrants. NOM data includes temporary migrants who intend to be in Australia for more than one year and also includes movements of Australian citizens and residents coming and going on a long term basis.

The preliminary NOM figure for 2009 was almost 300 000 (277 700) but this number is expected to fall in 2010. NOM overtook natural increase (births minus deaths) to become the major component of population growth in 2006-07. It is problematic to attribute this recent change to a trend as migration numbers are volatile, subject to the economic and political factors which determine planned intakes.

Migration and Humanitarian Program visa grants provide the most reliable indication as to the actual number of permanent migrants to Australia. Data is available back to the 1970s and 1980s from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and is provided in the new Background Note.

The number of permanent migrants for 2009-10 is expected to be around 168 700 (not 300 000).

(Image, 'Immigrants from Europe disembark from a ship in Sydney(1964)', sourced from: National Archives of Australia (image no. A1200, L46304))


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