Australia is regarded as one of the world’s major ‘immigration nations’ (together with New Zealand, Canada and the USA). Over 7.5 million people have settled in Australia since 1945, when the first federal immigration portfolio was established, and Australia’s overseas-born resident population—estimated to be 28.2 percent of the population in June 2015—is considered high in comparison to most other OECD countries.
Permanent migrants come to Australia under one of two programmes: the Migration Program for skilled and family migrants, or the Humanitarian Program for refugees and people in similar situations. Under these two programmes, the Australian government distributes spots, or quotas, for people who want to move permanently to Australia each year.
The United Kingdom (UK) had historically been the main source of permanent migration to Australia until recently. However, in 2010–11, China eclipsed the United Kingdom as Australia’s leading supplier of permanent migrants for the first time in its history. China and India have continued to provide the most permanent migrants since then. New Zealanders make up a significant portion of the settler population, however they are not counted under Australia’s Migration Program unless they seek for (and are granted) a permanent visa.
Numbers for migration programme planning have fluctuated over the years, depending on the priorities and economic and political factors of the government at the time. It is crucial to note, however, that the Australian government’s immigration policy objective has shifted dramatically after 1945, from luring general migrants (mainly from the United Kingdom) to attracting economic migrants and temporary (mostly skilled) migrants. The Migration Program is currently planning 190,000 spaces (it has been at this record high level since 2012–13), with skilled migrants making up the bulk.
The increase in temporary migration has been one of the most significant changes in the dynamics of migration to Australia since the late 1990s. In 1999–00, the net migration gain from long-term temporary movement exceeded that from permanent movement, and there were a record number of temporary entrants. Many of these newcomers came on student or Temporary Work (Skilled) (subclass 457) visas. Unlike the Permanent Migration Program, the level of temporary migration to Australia is determined by demand rather than government quotas or caps.
Many students are also able to apply for Australia permanent visas under the Migration Program after completing their courses, thanks to the 457 visa, which allows skilled employees and their dependents to qualify for permanent residency. People on temporary visas—mostly overseas students and temporary skilled migrants—have made the largest contribution to net overseas migration (NOM) in recent years, and the rate of Australia’s population growth has grown dramatically in recent years, mostly due to an increase in NOM.