Migration to Australia: a quick guide to the statistics

Updated 18 January 2017

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Janet Phillips, Social Policy Section
Joanne Simon-Davies, Statistics and Mapping Section

Overview

Australia is considered to be one of the world’s major ‘immigration nations‘(together with New Zealand, Canada and the USA). Since 1945, when the first federal immigration portfolio was created, over 7.5 million people have settled here and Australia’s overseas-born resident population—estimated to be 28.2 per cent of the population in June 2015—is considered high compared to most other OECD countries.

Permanent migrants enter Australia via one of two distinct programs—the Migration Program for skilled and family migrants or the Humanitarian Program for refugees and those in refugee-like situations. Each year, the Australian Government allocates places, or quotas, for people wanting to migrate permanently to Australia under these two programs.

Until recently, the United Kingdom (UK) had always been the primary source country for permanent migration to Australia. However, for the first time in the history of Australia, China surpassed the UK as Australia’s primary source of permanent migrants in 2010–11. Since then, China and India have continued to provide the highest number of permanent migrants. New Zealand (NZ) citizens also feature highly in the number of settler arrivals, but they are not counted under Australia’s Migration Program unless they apply for (and are granted) a permanent visa.

Over the decades, migration program planning numbers have fluctuated according to the priorities and economic and political considerations of the government of the day. However, it is important to note that the Australian Government’s immigration policy focus has changed markedly since 1945, when attracting general migrants (primarily from the UK) was the priority, to focussing on attracting economic migrants and temporary (predominantly skilled) migrants. Currently the planning figure for the Migration Program is 190,000 places (it has remained at this record high level since 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 that from permanent movement in 1999–00 and there were record numbers of temporary entrants in 2000–01. Many of these entrants arrived on either student or Temporary Work (Skilled) (subclass 457) visas. 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 dependants 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 and the rate of Australia’s population growth has increased significantly over the few years largely driven by an increase in NOM.

Migration statistics

Annual statistics on Migration and Humanitarian Program ‘outcomes’ (visa grants) provided by the Immigration Department since the 1980s provide accurate data on the number of people who are planning to migrate to Australia. However, other immigration-related data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is also used to measure migration flows or settler arrivals. These statistics are often used interchangeably and/or incorrectly with the result that data used in the public debate to describe migration flows can often be inaccurate or misleading. Changes in government policy and data collection methodology by government agencies have also added to the complexity in interpreting this data, and make it difficult to compare migration-related statistics over time. Some of the more commonly used data sets (and their limitations) include:

  • Net overseas migration (NOM) data, compiled since 1925 by the ABS, is often used to describe and measure population growth. However, NOM is not a measure of the number of permanent migrants arriving in any given year as it measures departures and arrivals of both permanent and (long-term) temporary entrants and the resulting increase or decrease in the population overall. In addition, the methodology for the calculation of NOM has changed significantly over the years and should be used with caution.
  • Settler arrival statistics, also compiled by the ABS, are a better indication of permanent migration flows than NOM, but include NZ citizens and some other temporary migrants who have indicated an intention to settle longer term. Other ABS data on overseas arrivals and departures may also include multiple arrivals and departures of individuals and not the total number of individuals.
  • Migration Program visa grant outcomes recorded by the Immigration Department, provide the most accurate statistics on the number of permanent migrants intending to settle in Australia, however not all migrants granted visas take them up, and accurate data is only available back to the 1980s. Prior to that, it is necessary to resort to settler arrival statistics.

This quick guide provides a summary of some of the key statistics on permanent and temporary migration to Australia. It updates some of the data in the statistical appendix of a more detailed Parliamentary Library paper on migration trends since 1901—Migration to Australia since federation: a guide to the statistics (2010).

Statistics include:

Table 1: Permanent migrants—migration and humanitarian program visa grants since 1985

Table 2: Temporary migrants— overseas student and business long stay (subclass 457) visa grants since 1996

Table 3: Net Overseas Migration (NOM) since 1901

Table 4: Components of population growth: 1980–2015


Table 1: Permanent migrants: migration and humanitarian program visa grants since 1984–85

Year Migration Program Humanitarian
Program
Family Child Skill Special
Eligibility
Total
1984–85 44 200   10 100 200 54 500 14 207
1985–86 63 400   16 200 400 80 000 11 700
1986–87 72 600   28 500 600 101 700 11 291
1987–88 79 500   42 000 600 122 100 11 392
1988–89 72 700   51 200 800 124 700 11 309
1989–90 66 600   52 700 900 120 200 12 415
1990–91 61 300   49 800 1 200 112 200 11 284
1991–92 55 900   41 400 1 700 98 900 12 009
1992–93 43 500   21 300 1 400 67 900 11 845
1993–94 43 200   18 300 1 300 62 800 14 070
1994–95 44 500   30 400 1 600 76 500 14 858
1995–96 56 700   24 100 1 700 82 500 16 252
1996–97 44 580   27 550 1 730 73 900 11 902
1997–98 31 310   34 670 1 110 67 100 12 055
1998–99 32 040   35 000 890 67 900 11 356
1999–00 32 000   35 330 2 850 70 200 15 860
2000–01 33 470   44 730 2 420 80 610 13 733
2001–02 38 090   53 520 1 480 93 080 12 349
2002–­03 40 790   66 050 1 230 108 070 12 525
2003–04 42 230   71 240 890 114 360 13 823
2004–05 41 740   77 880 450 120 060 13 178
2005–06 45 290   97 340 310 142 930 14 144
2006–07 50 080   97 920 200 148 200 13 017
2007–08 49 870   108 540 220 158 630 13 014
2008–09 56 366   114 777 175 171 318 13 507
2009–10 60 254   107 868 501 168 623 13 770
2010–11 54 543   113 725 417 168 685 13 778
2011–12 58 604   125 755 639 184 998 13 745
2012–13 60 185   128 973 842 190 000 19 998
2013–14 61 112   128 550 338 190 000 13 759
2014–15 61 085   127 774 238 189 097 13 756
2015–16 57 400 3512* 128 550 308 189 770 17 555

Sources: J Phillips, M Klapdor and J Simon-Davies, Migration to Australia since Federation: a guide to the statistics, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 27 August 2010; Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), Report on Migration Program reports, 2009–10 to 2014–15; Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), Annual Report 2011–12, p. 117; DIBP, Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program, fact sheet 60 (which regularly revises and updates the figures and may differ from previously published figures); and departmental annual reports and ministerial press releases (various years).

Notes: *Child places are now identified separately from the Family stream in response to recent reforms to the inter-country adoption processes. See DIBP, Annual report 2015–16, p. 61.


Table 2: Temporary migrants: overseas student and business long stay (subclass 457) visa grants since 1996–97

Year Overseas students Temporary business (long stay) 457 visas
1996–97 113 000 25 786
1997–98 108 827 30 880
1998–99 110 894 29 320
1999–00 119 806 31 070
2000–01 146 577 36 900
2001–02 151 894 33 510
2002–03 162 575 36 800
2003–04 171 616 39 500
2004–05 174 786 48 590
2005–06 190 674 71 149
2006–07 230 807 87 313
2007–08 278 715 110 567
2008–09 319 632 101 284
2009–10 270 499 67 979
2010–11 250 438 90 119
2011–12 253 046 125 070
2012–13 259 278 126 348
2013–14 292 060 98 571
2014–15 299 540 96 084
2015–16 310 845 85 611

Sources:  J Phillips, M Klapdor and J Simon-Davies, Migration to Australia since Federation: a guide to the statistics, op. cit.; DIAC, Australia’s migration trends 2011–12, 2013; DIBP,  Student and Subclass 457  visa statistics web pages; and departmental annual reports (various years).

 

Table 3: Net overseas migration (NOM) since 1901 (calendar year)

Year NOM (a) (b) Year NOM (a) (b) Year NOM (a) (b)   Series Break Information
1901 2 959 1940 10 676 1979 68 611  

Prior to July 1922 crew members were included

Prior to July 1925 figures are total overseas arrivals and departures from Australia

1902 -4 293 1941 5 136 1980 100 940  
1903 -9 876 1942 8 536 1981 123 066  
1904 -2 983 1943 1 587 1982 102 709  
1905 -2 600 1944 -1 761 1983 54 995  
1906 -5 049 1945 -3 273 1984 59 823  
1907 5 195 1946 -11 589 1985 89 319  
1908 5 437 1947 12 186 1986 110 661   From July 1925 figures are Net Permanent and Long Term migration
1909 21 783 1948 48 468 1987 136 093  
1910 29 912 1949 149 270 1988 172 794  
1911 74 379 1950 153 685 1989 129 478   Break in series from September quarter 1971 to June quarter 2006 inclusive, Net Overseas Migration (NOM) was the difference between permanent and long-term arrivals and permanent and long-term departures.
1912 91 892 1951 110 362 1990 97 131  
1913 63 227 1952 97 454 1991 81 669  
1914 -8 226 1953 42 883 1992 51 358  
1915 -84 410 1954 68 565 1993 34 822  
1916 -128 737 1955 95 317 1994 55 506  
1917 -17 822 1956 102 105 1995 106 864  
1918 23 359 1957 77 622 1996 97 444  
1919 166 303 1958 64 879 1997 72 402  
1920 27 606 1959 83 578 1998 88 781  
1921 17 525 1960 92 776 1999 104 210  
1922 40 157 1961 65 439 2000 111 441   For September quarter 2006 onwards estimates for NOM are the difference between the number of incoming travellers who stay in Australia for 12 months or more and are added to the population (NOM arrivals) and the number of outgoing travellers who leave Australia for 12 months or more and are subtracted from the population (NOM departures)
1923 39 714 1962 64 638 2001 136 076  
1924 46 069 1963 76 844 2002 110 475  
1925 39 762 1964 103 999 2003 110 104  
1926 42 282 1965 111 609 2004 106 425  
1927 49 401 1966 95 931 2005 137 000  
1928 28 864 1967 96 558 2006 182 100  
1929 10 087 1968 123 452 2007 244 000  
1930 -9 833 1969 140 331 2008 315 700  
1931 -12 117 1970 138 382 2009 246 900  
1932 -4 608 1971 103 553 2010 172 000  
1933 -1 364 1972 56 320 2011 205 700  
1934 - 388 1973 67 494 2012 237 400  
1935 1 251 1974 87 248 2013p 206 200  
1936 1 283 1975 13 515 2014p 178 000
1937 5 075 1976 33 997 2015p 177 100  
1938 8 145 1977 68 030      
1939 12 527 1978 47 394 P = preliminary estimates

(a)  Estimates for September quarter 2006 onwards use an improved methodology and are not comparable with NOM estimates prior to this.
(b)  An adjustment for category jumping (later referred to as migration adjustments) was included for estimates for September quarter 1976 to June quarter 2006, except for September quarter 1997 to June quarter 2001 when it was set to zero.
Sources:  Data for 1901–1924: DIAC, Immigration: federation to century’s end, DIAC, Canberra, 2001.
Data for 1925–2005: ABS, Australian Historical Population Statistics, cat. no. 3105.0.65.001, 2008.
Data for 2006 onwards: ABS, Australian Demographic Statistics, cat. no. 3101.0.

 

Table 4: Components of population growth: 1980–2015

As at June Natural Increase Net overseas migration
Number % of total growth Number % of total growth
1980 117 000 60.7 75 900 39.3
1981 121 500 50.5 119 200 49.5
1982 126 100 49.6 128 100 50.4
1983 128 900 63.7 73 300 36.3
1984 129 600 72.5 49 100 27.5
1985 127 600 63.4 73 800 36.6
1986 123 000 55.0 100 500 45.0
1987 126 600 50.2 125 800 49.8
1988 125 800 45.7 149 400 54.3
1989 131 300 45.5 157 500 54.5
1990 132 400 51.5 124 700 48.5
1991 141 600 62.1 86 500 37.9
1992 138 700 66.9 68 600 33.1
1993 139 200 82.2 30 100 17.8
1994 135 300 74.4 46 600 25.6
1995 132 400 62.3 80 200 37.7
1996 124 400 54.5 104 000 45.5
1997 126 900 59.3 87 200 40.7
1998 120 500 60.4 79 100 39.6
1999 122 400 55.9 96 500 44.1
2000 122 100 53.2 107 200 46.8
2001 120 400 47.0 135 700 53.0
2002 119 200 51.9 110 600 48.1
2003 116 900 50.1 116 500 49.9
2004 118 800 54.3 100 000 45.7
2005 126 900 50.6 123 800 49.4
2006 132 000 47.4 146 700 52.6
2007 151 300 39.4 232 700 60.6
2008 154 400 35.8 277 400 64.2
2009 156 400 34.3 299 900 65.7
2010 162 500 45.3 196 100 54.7
2011 155 700 46.3 180 400 53.7
2012 158 900 40.9 229 400 59.1
2013p 162 600 41.7 227 100 58.3
2014p 157 000 45.7 186 400 54.3
2015p 148 900 45.7 176 500 54.3

Source: ABS, Australian Demographic Statistics, cat. no. 3101.0.

 

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