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Most of Australia’s migrants are here temporarily - featured image
By Simone Alexander

Most of Australia’s migrants are here temporarily

The ABS has recently released data from its Australian Census and Temporary Entrants Integrated Dataset (ACTEID) which effectively matches two datasets and provides more insight into the characteristics of migrants.

In an era where there is a lot of conjecture around the scale and composition of Australia's migration program, this type of data release is welcome as it adds to the evidence base.

So what are the key findings?

Read on to find out.

What is ACTEID?

ACTEID uses data from the 2016 Census and matches it to data from the Department of Home Affairs.

MigrantsDetailed information about how this is achieved is available from the ABS website, but suffice to say that the data is de-identified and then matched using statistical linking techniques.

The matching assigns weights which look at the probability that two records from two databases are the same person.

The ABS says that around 60% of records were matched through the statistical linking process.

The analysis in this blog is a taster of the full range of data available.

Data for each state and territory can be downloaded from the ABS website.

Australia's migrants in the 21st century

I've blogged before about the shifting balance between permanent and temporary migration.

In 2017, 61% of arrivals were temporary visa holders, up from 44% in 2004.

The numbers of people coming to Australia on temporary visas has generally increased each year since 2010, whereas the number of people arriving as permanent settlers has been more stable.

This is one reason why the release of the ACTEID data is important as it provides more data on the social and economic characteristics of temporary visa holders in Australia.

Temporary visa holders stay (or intend to stay) in Australia for 12 months or more and therefore are counted in the Estimated Resident Population (ERP).

They are typically international students and skilled working visa holders, but also New Zealanders living in Australia on special category visas.

In fact, New Zealanders comprise 42% of the temporary visa population in Australia.

So why would we be interested in them?

Well, the ACTEID shows that in 2016 they numbered more than 1.5 million persons.

They travel, they work, they study, so they need to be considered in the planning of services and infrastructure.

Where do temporary migrants come from?

Aside from New Zealanders, who have their own special visa class, the main countries of citizenship were China (157,130 persons, or 11% of all temporary migrants), India (115,260) and the United Kingdom (55,980).

MigrationHowever, the type of visa held by citizens of these countries were very different.

More than three-quarters (78%) of Chinese citizens were in Australia on student visas, far outnumbering students from other countries.

About half of Indian citizens were students, and another third were skilled workers, whereas almost half of UK citizens were skilled workers, and another quarter were working holiday makers.

Are temporary migrants educated?

The level of education was related to visa class, as shown in the table below.

Not surprisingly, skilled workers tended to have the highest education level.

More than one-half possessed a bachelor degree or higher (35% bachelor degree, 20% higher degree, graduate diploma or certificate).

Less than one in five did not have a post-school qualification.


Student visa holders and working holiday makers had similar education levels, with around 29% holding a bachelor degree.

On the other hand, almost half of these visa holders did not have a post-school qualification.

Migrants AustraliaIn the case of student visa holders, this suggests that many are studying for their first post-school qualification, and those that already have a degree may be studying for a higher degree or upgrading their qualifications.

New Zealand temporary residents had a lower level of qualification than other visa holders.

This is possibly a reflection of their older age structure which more closely resembles the total population.

I've shown before that there is a strong relationship between age and obtaining a bachelor degree or higher.

For instance, 15.9% of New Zealand temporary residents hold a bachelor degree or higher compared to 17.9% of the total population.

At the other end of the scale, 46.4% of New Zealand temporary residents did not have a post-school qualification compared to 51% of the total population.

What jobs do temporary migrants hold?

Not all temporary migrants are working.

Migrant JobTheir labour force participation rate (which includes those looking for work) is 68%, which is higher than the overall population (60%).

Unsurprisingly, skilled workers and working holiday makers recorded very high labour force participation rates of over 80%, whereas students recorded the lowest (51%).

The types of occupations held by temporary migrants also reflects their visa class.

As the table below shows, three-quarters of skilled workers were in professional, managerial and technical and trade occupations.

The proportion working in professional occupations was much higher than other visa categories.

The most common occupations within the professional category were business, human resources and marketing, ICT, and health.


Students and working holiday makers also tended to work in similar occupations, typically in the semi-skilled and low skilled categories.

The most common occupation for both visa types was labourers (30.4% for students, 38.8% for working holiday makers).

Within this broad category, students were more likely to work as cleaners and laundry workers, whereas working holiday makers were employed in factory processing or as farm, forestry and garden workers.

This is not surprising as working in these occupations is a prerequisite for extending a working holiday visa for an additional twelve months.


The ACTEID matches data from the 2016 Census and from the Department of Home Affairs to create a more in-depth look at the characteristics of temporary migrants in Australia.

In 2016, there were 1.5 million temporary migrants in Australia. Migration

42% of temporary migrants are from New Zealand, but citizens from China, India and the United Kingdom are also important.

However they tended to have different visa types and this also influences socio-economic outcomes.

Around three-quarters of Chinese temporary migrants were in Australia on student visas, whereas UK temporary migrants were more likely to be skilled workers.

The level of education and the type of occupations were linked to visa class.

Skilled workers, unsurprisingly, tended to work in professional and managerial occupations, whereas students and working holiday makers were more likely to work in semi-skilled and low skilled occupations.

About Simone Alexander Simone Alexander is a demographic consultant with more than 20 years of experience working in both the public and private sectors. She uses her expertise to blog about demographic trends, housing and planning issues in Australia’s cities and regions.
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