Chapter Three - The extent of Australia's expatriate community
This chapter examines:
- how the number of Australian expatriates is
determined and reasons why this number is difficult to determine accurately;
- what might be done in the future to determine more
accurately the number of Australian expatriates.
Determining the extent of Australia's
Traditionally, the national population of Australia
has been counted as those who are resident in Australia
on the night of the population census.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) informed the Committee that the
Australian Census is conducted on a 'de facto' basis which counts all people
who are actually in Australia
on census night, regardless of where their usual residence might be, and does
not count any Australian residents or citizens overseas on census night. Then, for official population
purposes, those residents overseas on census night for less than 12 months are
added back into the population using information from passenger cards provided
by DIMIA, and overseas visitors in Australia
for less than 12 months are excluded.
Australians who have moved overseas on a
permanent or long-term basis are not included in the Australian Census. This
may be particularly pertinent given that, according to the Hugo
report, 'the bulk of these people have retained Australian citizenship,
especially since dual citizenship was introduced in 2001.' Further, as outlined in Chapter 2, the
majority of these people also still consider Australia
to be their home. The Hugo report also argued that, given
modern globalisation, it may be appropriate for Australia
to seek alternative conceptualisations of what constitutes its national
The Hugo report presented
evidence from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) which
estimated the number of Australian citizens living on a long-term or permanent
basis in other countries as being 858,886 as at 31 December 2001. This is equivalent to 4.3 per cent of
the 2001 resident population. In
addition, DFAT identified a further 264,955 shorter-term 'visiting citizens'. The Committee notes that this is a
significant number of Australians.
The SCG drew the Committee's attention to
apparent discrepancies in DFAT data in relation to the number of Australian
expatriates. For example, the SCG noted that the DFAT White Paper entitled Advancing the National Interest of 12 February 2003 stated that the
number of Australians living overseas is estimated to be 720,000. In its submission to this inquiry,
DFAT estimated the number of Australians resident overseas as 759,849 for the
period 2002-2003. However, DFAT stressed that this was an estimate only as it
was not possible to obtain figures on Australian residents from all countries.
In its submission to this inquiry, DFAT noted
that, while the Australian expatriate community is large, it is difficult to
quantify. Due to the diversity and the number of countries Australians reside
in, it is difficult to obtain reliable data in relation to the number of
Australian expatriates. According to
DFAT, the Australian expatriate community:
... includes a highly transient population of young students,
volunteers and working holiday makers as well as senior, successful long term
residents and dual nationals, some of whom have a high profile in government,
business, the arts, sport, the media, and academia across the globe.
DFAT informed the Committee that it 'uses what
sources it can to estimate the size of expatriate communities as a tool in
providing protection, primarily in emergency situations, to Australians
overseas'. In particular, two
sources are used: estimates from DFAT's overseas posts on the size of their
respective Australian communities; and details of those Australians who
register with DFAT.
Overseas posts employ different strategies and
sources to estimate the size of the Australian community in their respective
jurisdictions. However, because of the different methods of collecting this
information in each country, 'no direct comparison can be made between data provided
by different countries'. Further, for many Australian overseas posts, such as
in the UK and
most of Europe, reliable sources of data are not
available since some countries have made decisions to cease collecting those
data. DFAT presented evidence to the
Committee showing that, as at 13
February 2004, the number of Australians staying in an overseas
country for more than three months who registered with an Australian post was
DFAT noted that passport issue and voting
statistics, and numbers of Australians in receipt of Centrelink pensions are
useful in helping to estimate the size of the long-term resident community. However,
it is difficult for DFAT to provide a realistic estimate of Australians who are
also dual nationals of their country of residence because they are rarely
identified as Australian. For example, passport issue statistics indicate that
there is a significant Australian dual national population in, for example, the
DFAT also has an online register of Australians
overseas (ORAO) where Australians who wish to register may do so. This
registration information helps DFAT locate Australians in an emergency and is
also used actively to send important information to each Australian registered.
DFAT encourages use of the online register by Australians planning to reside
overseas for extended periods, and those travelling to locations where there
are security risks as outlined in DFAT travel advisories. Each of DFAT's 143
destination-specific travel advisories promotes the ORAO registration system
and encourages all Australians (expatriates or travellers) to register.
DFAT informed the Committee that, ultimately,
'the utility of ORAO is a function of the number of people who choose to register'. DFAT estimates that, based on
available figures, approximately 14 per cent of Australians residing overseas
choose to register. However, there are a number of reasons why Australians do
not register, including because they are dual nationals or they are residing in
certain countries that may have local support systems available to them.
Concerns about privacy may be another reason why
some Australians do not register. DFAT assured the Committee that information
provided by those who register is strictly protected by the Privacy Act 1988 and is not shared
without express permission. Further, DFAT 'adhere(s) strictly to the purpose
for which information was given, which is to be able to contact Australians
overseas in an emergency or with critical information'.
Cummings, an expatriate living in Spain,
argued that the extent of the number of Australian expatriates is:
... obviously highly significant and ought to be accounted for and
considered through Australian government and institutional policies. The
estimated million Australian expatriates should also be understood to be a very
diverse group which does not predominantly consist of high earning executives
but includes a very diverse range of individuals from scientific and academic
researchers, teachers and nurses to volunteer workers and fruit pickers.
In response to questioning at one of the
Committee's public hearings, a representative from DIMIA noted the difficulties
in determining at what particular point an expatriate becomes an expatriate for
'official' purposes. He also spoke of his own experiences living and working
That is a very
difficult question to answer. Even for young backpackers who go on working
holidaymaker programs and work in pubs in England for 12 months, it does not take long for
them to regard themselves as Australian expatriates working overseas, whereas
you have other people working in New York for 20 years. So you have one extreme to
the other. I have served overseas with the Australian government and I felt
like an expatriate even though I had very direct and regular connection with Australia. Your sense of Australianness is enhanced
the minute you leave the country. It is very difficult to answer your question,
and certainly there is no way for us to make judgments about when a person
feels that they have become an expatriate.
Hugo report noted that estimates of the number of expatriates may be inaccurate
because, for example, some Australians are effectively working and living
overseas but return to Australia at least once a year and still regard
Australia as a permanent place of residence. However, such Australians are
regarded by DIMIA statistics as 'short-term' departures. The Hugo report argued that, based on anecdotal evidence, this phenomenon is rising
(particularly in the US and Asia).
Possible ways of more accurately determining the number of Australian
The Hugo report made the point
that the increased mobility of Australians throughout the world raises some
fundamental questions about who should be included in any count of Australia's
population. For example:
Should we be attempting to count the population who identify
themselves as Australians, regardless of where they happen to be on the night
of the census? ... Should we be looking to new conceptualisations of national
The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Committee's report, The (not quite) White
Paper, Australia's foreign affair and trade policy, Advancing the National
Interest, asserted the view that it is important that accurate figures are
available, and that the Australian Census should provide for the inclusion of
expatriate Australians in its statistics. That Committee was of the view that four
percent of the population is no small number of people and, to the extent that
an important purpose of census data is to enable governments and private sector
decision-makers to plan for the future, the inclusion of accurate data on
expatriates is vital.
The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Committee recommended that the ABS develop mechanisms for accurately
enumerating the numbers of Australian citizens living overseas, with a view to
facilitating their full participation in the Australian Census. In its
submission to this inquiry, DFAT expressed support for this recommendation
because 'it would be useful to have more accurate and robust data on which to
base consular contingency planning'.
The ABS submission to this inquiry echoed the Government Response to the Senate Foreign
Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee Report in which that Committee's
recommendation on the issue was not accepted.
In this inquiry, the ABS informed the Committee that it has no current plans to
include overseas Australians in the 2006 Australian Census because 'this is not
regarded as practical, nor is a quality outcome achievable'. The ABS argued that 'unsuccessful' attempts
by Canada and
the US to
include overseas citizens in past censuses support its position in relation to
this matter. According to the ABS, these censuses were only able to include a
small proportion of citizens living overseas.
The ABS argued further that, in any case, collection of information from people
overseas 'could only ever be on a voluntary basis using media announcements
asking people to register for a population census form'.
The ABS submission also informed the Committee that the ABS publishes
monthly statistics in Overseas Arrivals
and Departures, Australia on the
number of Australian residents leaving Australia for overseas and returning from overseas. These statistics
are based on information from outgoing and incoming passenger cards provided by
DIMIA. Selected characteristics are available on request including age, sex,
duration of stay/absence, country of citizenship on passport, and country of
where most time was or will be spent. The ABS noted that, while these
statistics do not provide a stock of Australians living overseas, they do
provide information on trends in the flow of Australian's travelling overseas
and those returning over a long time series.
In evidence at one of the Committee's hearings,
a representative from DIMIA emphasised the importance of the information
provided on passenger cards:
Going back to the
passenger card, when people leave they will tell us what their intention is.
That ranges from: ‘Yes, I am going for good and I am never coming back,’ to, ‘I
am going for less than a year.’ The one in the middle is: ‘I am going for more
than a year, but not for good.’ In a technical sense, we call those people who
go for more than a year ‘long-term departures’.
We now have the
capacity to track people not only in a sort of a net aggregate sense—that is,
counting the number out and counting them back—but to count individuals and to
trace whether that person who said they were going to go for good actually did.
We can only go back a short number of years to do that. That is about as far as
it goes. So we do have a fairly good sense of how many people are overseas long
term and permanently and we also have a pretty good sense of how many people
who go and state they are going to do that actually come back within a fairly
Professor Hugo also observed in evidence to the Committee that:
In Australia we are
probably better off than any other country in the world in looking at our
diaspora, partly because we are one of the very few countries that has an
outgoing passenger card ... I believe that there is a great deal of opportunity
in the future to use that information in more innovative and intensive ways to
get more of a handle on what the diaspora is like and what its scale is.
the SCG submitted that information from DIMIA arrival and departure cards is
The ABS also told the Committee that it is
currently taking part in a trial project being undertaken by the Organisation
for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This project aims:
... "to embark collectively on a joint compilation of
available data on the stock of immigrants in OECD countries". This trial
will be drawing on data from a variety of sources in each country including
censuses, population registers and surveys, and has the possibility of being a
cost effective method of obtaining information on Australians living in other
The SCG was highly critical of the approach
taken by the ABS, particularly in relation to the exclusion of a large number
of expatriates from the Australian Census:
overseas is an unofficial ambassador for Australia. A significant and major way in which
expatriate Australians have been dismissed comprises the failure by the ABS to
engage in any work to date to enumerate overseas Australians or ascertain
further statistical information about them. Not only have overseas Australians
been excluded from the Census, but there has also been no separate survey work
focussing on this significant percentage of Australian citizens.
While acknowledging that counting overseas
Australians, whether in the Australian Census or by other means, would not be
easy, the SCG argued that the approach of the ABS needs to change. The SCG
argued that counting overseas Australians:
... is of national importance, because we know today that the number
of Australians overseas ... is approximately equivalent to 5% of the Australian
resident population. While this figure is only an estimate, it cannot be
The China-Australia Chamber of Commerce
(AustCham Beijing) submitted that it has been unable to obtain an accurate
figure on the size of the Australian population in China
from either the Australian or Chinese Governments. In its view, the Australian Government
should consider conducting a census to gauge the size and spread of Australian
expatriates. Further, it submitted that there is a need for ongoing research
into the needs of the Australian expatriate population since it is a 'dynamic'
group with often frequent movement between cities and countries. According to
AustCham Beijing, some of the many questions to be answered include:
Who are our expats? Where are they? How old are they? What do
they do? What level of education do they have? What languages do they speak? Do
they have kids? Do they have health insurance?
Part of the SCG's submission to this inquiry
included a copy of its submission to the ABS 2003 Information Paper on the 2006
Census of Population and Housing. The SCG made a number of suggestions in
relation to how Australian expatriates might eventually be included in the Australian
Census. For example, the SCG put forward that Australians in Australia
on census night in 2006 should be asked to identify whether they have immediate
Australian-citizen family members normally living overseas, and to identify
where these individuals are living. The SCG argued that this is particularly
important given that present information from DFAT is inconsistent and, in any
case, will only ever be a very rough estimate based on consular activity.
The SCG submitted that expatriate Australians
should be included in the census because 'Australians working overseas play an
important and growing role in improving the international competitiveness of Australia'
and they 'contribute economically, politically and culturally to Australia'.
The SCG also argued that in the interests of fairness, expatriate Australians
should be included in the census:
Many pay taxes in Australia,
own property in Australia
and have strong and continuing relationships with family and friends in Australia.
It is undesirable and not in the national interest to exclude the Australian
Diaspora from the Census. Australians abroad have a right to equal treatment.
However, the Committee understands that a 'test'
census held in 2004 by the US
of its citizens based in three foreign countries (in preparation for the 2010 US
census) was not as successful as hoped.
In his evidence to the Committee, Professor
Hugo also expressed doubt about the proposal
to include expatriate Australians in the Australian Census:
I think that it may be more advisable to undertake a survey of
some kind of the expatriate community ... that would probably be a better way to find
out about the expatriate community than an attempt to include it in the
The Committee's view
The Committee considers that expatriate
Australians should be considered as part of the Australian community. The
Committee also recognises that it would be desirable to improve the methods of
determining the number of expatriate Australians.
However, the Committee does not believe that it
is necessary or desirable to attempt to include expatriate Australians in the
Australian Census. The Committee agrees with the ABS that including expatriate
Australians in the census presents considerable practical difficulties, and any
data obtained would be of questionable quality. The Committee also notes that attempts
made overseas to include overseas citizens have been not been very successful.
In the Committee's view, the ABS and DIMIA should
continue their existing efforts to improve the statistical information in
relation to Australian expatriates, particularly through the use of information
from incoming and outgoing passenger cards. The Committee also encourages the ABS
in its involvement in the trial project by the OECD, which could prove to be a
useful and cost-effective means of obtaining data about Australians living in