Overseas students are driving Australia’s Net Overseas Migration tide

Foreign students Immigration Population density Labour market International students Australia

There is widespread awareness that overseas students are a large and growing presence in Australia.

But few observers would know that by 2017-18 overseas students were the largest contributor to Australia’s very high level of Net Overseas Migration (NOM). According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimates, overseas students comprised 104,987 of the overall level of NOM of 236,733 in 2017-18. That’s 44 per cent of total NOM.

Nor would many observers be aware that, over the six years from 2011-12 to 2017-18, overseas students were by far the largest growth point in Australia’s NOM. Their contribution increased from 25,700 in 2011-12 to 104,987 in 2017-18.

In the absence of the increasing contribution of overseas students, Australia’s NOM would have declined to around 150,000.

The student share of NOM in 2017-18 of 104,987 was far greater than that attributable to movements of those holding permanent residence visas – which was 68,850 in 2017-18.

Yet almost all the recent debate about the size of NOM and the Coalition government’s proposals to deal with the scale of NOM has focussed on the permanent resident component. The Coalition plans to reduce the impact on Sydney and Melbourne by diverting some who obtain permanent visas to regional areas.
The far more important size of the overseas student component has barely rated a mention in this debate, either by the Australian government or commentators on the migration issue. Nor are many commentators aware that overseas students are by far the largest contributors to population growth in inner Sydney and Melbourne.

This report explores the factors that have helped bring about the student influx. It shows that it was mainly due to Australian government decisions beginning in 2011. These diluted the English language and financial requirements overseas students had to meet in order to obtain an overseas student visa. The purpose was to promote the overseas student industry.

The report examines the consequences of growth in the overseas student presence for the labour markets and for the congestion issues now afflicting Sydney and Melbourne.

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