Home Country profiles – Australia

Country profile

Almost one-quarter of the Australian population are foreign born. The largest single source of migrants is still the UK, but immigration is becoming increasingly diverse with many more people arriving from Asia.

Arrivals in 2005 167,000 permanent settlers
Foreign-born total 4.8 million (24% of population)
Sources of arrivals (2005) UK, 18%; New Zealand,12%; China, 11%

Australia has generally tried to be selective about immigrants. After the Second World War, which had exposed the country to potential military invasion, immigration was seen as a way to bolster national security – and was promoted under the slogan 'populate or perish'. The original intention was to attract more British settlers, and later people from elsewhere in Europe, but by the late 1960s the 'White Australia' policy had become untenable. A new system was introduced in 1973 giving priority to family reunification and people with particular skills. Since 1945, over six million permanent migrants have entered Australia.

Australia, immigration and emigration, thousands, 1996-2005

Immigration to Australia

But as the chart above indicates, Australia also has significant emigration, now running at around 60,000 per year. Around half of emigrants were born in Australia; the rest were mostly people returning to New Zealand, the UK or the US.

Australia has one of the world's most multicultural populations – around 40% of people have at least one parent who was born overseas. There is some racism and there has at times been resistance to non-white immigration, notably in the late 1990s by the now largely defunct One Nation party. But cultural diversity has been encourage through multiculturalism – an annual 'Harmony Day', celebrates diversity – and most people accept that migrants are good for the society and the economy.

The most popular State for settler arrivals is New South Wales, with 31% of immigrants intending to settle there. Next is Victoria (25%), followed by Queensland (20%) and Western Australia (14%).

Compared with the Australian-born population, Migrants generally have higher levels of skill and qualification and are less likely to depend on welfare. They also have better standards of health. Some refugee groups, however, lack education and may have difficulty with English, though are generally ambitious for their children.

Recent migrants largely become Australian citizens, particularly those who have arrived as refugees, or as settlers from the Philippines, Viet Nam or China. Those least likely to take up citizenship are those coming from the main English-speaking countries.

Australia accepts permanent immigrants through four main streams. The distribution of the those who came in 2006-07 was:

1. Skill – 98,918 Migrants who have specific work skills, are nominated by particular employers, or who have business skills and capital to bring into the country.
2. Family – 48,769 Generally spouses, fiancés, dependent children and parents of Australian citizens.
3. Special Eligibility 163 Former residents seeking to return.
4. Humanitarian – 14,158 – Refugees and others.

Australia also accepts temporary immigrants under a '457' visa for skilled foreigners requested by Australian employers. The number has increased rapidly, to over 100,000 in 2006-07. The '457' workers have to be paid prevailing wages for their occupation, such as A$39,100 a year for chefs in urban areas. Employers often prefer '457' workers because they cannot change employer.

In addition there are unskilled foreign 'working holidaymakers' , young people who are allowed to work for one employer up to six months to finance their vacations. There are also increasing numbers of overseas students. In 2006-07, 228,592 student visas were granted, with India, China and South Korea as the main sources. These students make up over 18 per cent of enrolments in Australian universities.