A snapshot of temporary migrants in Australia

A budding public conversation is underway about Australia’s population. Perhaps to help inform this conversation, the Department of Home Affairs has released a new data product documenting the number of migrants in Australia who hold a temporary visa.

While this information was previously available as an aggregated report, the Department’s new pivot table allows for clearer and more detailed analysis. If you ever wanted to know how many Cambodian citizens in Australia held a post-study work visa, here is your chance (82 as at 30 September 2017).

Snapshot of migrants holding a temporary visa

The table below shows the number of migrants in Australia who held a temporary visa on 30 September 2012 compared to 30 September 2017 for various visa categories:

Visa Category








Crew and Transit




Other Temporary




Special Category (New Zealand)








Temporary Resident (Other)




Temporary Resident (Skilled)








Working Holiday Maker








(Source: Department of Home Affairs, Temporary visa holders in Australia, published 20 March 2018)

Over the five year period, there has been a 23 per cent increase in the population of people holding some type of temporary visa in Australia. While there is December 2017 data available, September data provides a better overview as many migrants are coming and going over the summer holiday period.

It’s important to note these figures are a snapshot at a point in time, known as stock (or population) data. Many, many more people have held a temporary visa between 2012 and 2017 but these people are not captured in this particular dataset.

There are a number of interesting trends from the table. About half of the increase in population was generated by people holding an international student visa. Higher enrolments across the tertiary education sector, as well as an increase in school visas, has seen international students drive growth in migration trends over the past five years.

The other large growth category is people holding a visitor visa, mostly due to rising tourist numbers. Visitor visas are quite different to the other temporary migrant categories as most only stay for a short period of time in Australia. The 316,638 visitors in Australia on 30 September 2017 represent a small fraction of the overall number of visitors each year (with over five million visas granted in 2016–17).

An increase in the number of international students will have different effects on Australia’s population than an increase in the number of visitors and tourists. A student might rent a house and work whereas a visitor is unlikely to do either of these.   

Some categories tell a different story. Better known as the (former) 457 visa program, the Temporary Resident (Skilled) category is now in decline after peaking at a population over 200,000 people in March 2014. Now known as the Temporary Skills Shortage (or TSS) visa, recent policy changes are having a significant effect to slow the number of applications. This will flow through to lower numbers of people in Australia in the coming years.

Other temporary categories are also in decline or flat. Working Holiday Makers, also known as backpackers, are easing off after peaking in early 2014. The change in New Zealand citizens (on ‘Special Category’ visas, a category just for Kiwis) is relatively flat, having increased by about five per cent over the five years. This rate of growth is much smaller than in the first decade of the 21st century.

Most of these trends are established and increasingly raised in public debate about immigration. However there are a number of other trends that can be drawn from this new data and which are discussed below.

Emerging countries

There is rising awareness of how Chinese and Indian migrants have become the two leading countries of immigration to Australia. But there are other countries also growing strongly, albeit off a lower base.

Since September 2012, the number of Nepalese citizens holding a temporary visa in Australia has increased by 124 per cent, to 47,774 people, now the seventh largest country. Mongolia (a 442 per cent increase to 3,632) and Nigeria (a 223 per cent increase to 4,783) stand out as two countries without a history of immigration to Australia, now growing very quickly. These countries contrast starkly with Ireland, whose citizens in Australia on various temporary visas have declined 56 per cent since 2012, from 39,600 to 17,322.

Temporary graduates

In November 2011, the Gillard government changed the visa pathways for some international students, re-writing the rules for people remaining in Australia after finishing their education. The ‘Temporary Graduate’ visa (subclass 485) has unrestricted work rights for people who have finished at least a bachelor degree with two years in Australia. These changes saw temporary graduates bottom out in the second half of 2014 at around 20,000. Since then, the population of people staying on after their education has more than doubled to over 55,000 by September 2017. As the higher education stream for international student visas grew again in 2016–17 (by about 10 per cent, p. 7), it is likely this category will also continue to grow in the near future.

Bridging visas

A bridging visa is not a standard visa. The various sub-categories (A, B, C, D and E) are designed to ensure everyone in Australia has the right to remain lawfully. A common example is someone who has lived in Australia for some time on a temporary visa and has applied to become a permanent resident. However their temporary visa expires before a decision has been made on their permanent visa application. This person will be automatically granted a bridging visa as their temporary visa expires.

The population of 160,284 people holding a bridging visa at 30 September 2017 is the highest on record. Strong growth in bridging visas indicates a number of possibilities. Longer visa processing times for some visas categories are probably increasing the number of people who end up on a bridging visa. This may be the result of an increased demand for visas, fewer resources dedicated to visa processing, and/or increased time spent on each visa application.

The release of this data product is a positive development and an important addition to a growing number of migration-related datasets.

Tags: Immigration


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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