Are we about to surf another wave of European migration?

Are we about to surf another wave of European migration?

International migration is certainly not a new phenomenon but in recent decades the volume of people moving between countries has increased substantially.  The globalisation of the world economy, as well as improving transportation and communications, are key factors behind this increase.  The World Bank estimates that over 200 million people live outside their country of birth – and that’s just the official estimate.  Australia and Singapore both have a long history of international migration, and potential new trends have recently gained media attention in both countries.


On a recent trip to South East Asia I was intrigued to open up the Sunday edition of The Straits Time in Singapore and find not one, but two demographic related articles.  The first was a detail examination about the increasing rate of divorce amongst older Singaporeans (you can access the article here, but you need to subscribe to read the entire thing).  The other article was about the increasing volume of French people settling in Singapore.  According to the article, the French population in Singapore has almost doubled in the last five years.  The suggested reasons for this increase were largely attributed to the depressed job market in Europe, though the warm, tropical climate of Singapore was also cited as a pull factor.

The following Sunday after returning home I opened up my copy of The Age and found a similar article which suggested that Australia was on the crest of a second wave of European migration.  The impetus for this appears to be an apparent increase in the number of inquiries made to various representatives of European ethnic community bodies.  Again, a relatively healthy job market was cited as a significant factor in attracting people to consider a migration to Australia.

So is Australia at the crest of another wave of European migration?  We blog a lot about migration at .id – in the last year or so we’ve published around 15 migration related blogs – probably because it’s a complex, multi-faceted and volatile component of population change.  Only last week we blogged about the decline in net overseas migration, and late last year we published a series of blogs using data from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).  In the middle of last year, we published a blog discussing the notion that the Asian born population in Australia would soon outstrip the European born, simply because of the increased migration to Australia from Asian countries.  This would appear to contradict the trend suggested in the more recent article in The Age, so what’s the real story here?

International migration has always played a key role in the growth of the Australian population.  The impact of the wave of post-war migration on the population has been well documented.  The migrants who arrived in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s were very different to those arriving now.  They were more likely to view their move as a permanent one simply due to the time and cost involved in travelling “home”.  In the 21st century, the world has metaphorically become a smaller place.  A global economy, where capital is flexible and skilled workers are in high demand, is a key feature of the contemporary world.  Australia competes with other countries for skilled labour – and of course our skilled labour is in demand across the world.  Many people come to Australia on skilled migration visas (typically a “457” working visa) that may eventually translate into a permanent move, but can also mean that the person moves elsewhere after a few years.  DIAC data shows that the skilled migration and working holiday visas are dominated by Europeans and North Americans, but student visas are dominated by Asian countries.  Permanent settler arrivals are also more likely to be from Asian countries, but New Zealanders and people from the United Kingdom are significant in this category as well.


Statistics on the volume and changing nature of arrivals to Australia are presented above.  Since 1990, the volume of arrivals (counted as movements) has almost trebled (hitting a high of 642,780 in 2009) and has been largely driven by the growth of long term visitor arrivals.  This has resulted in a dramatic change in the composition of permanent and long term arrivals to Australia.  In 1990, just over half of movements (51.9%) were classified as permanent settler arrivals and a further 24.0% were long term visitor arrivals ie more than one year.  The remainder were Australia residents returning after more than 12 months away.  From the mid 1990s the proportion of permanent settler arrivals started to decline, and that of long term visitor arrivals began to increase.  By 2011 less than a quarter of movements (23.0%) were permanent settler arrivals and 58.4% were long term visitor arrivals.  This includes people travelling on skilled migration visas and other visa types which allow them to reside in Australia for more than 12 months.

Trends impacting on international migration to Australia in the 21st century cannot be separated from the forces of globalisation and the impact this has on labour markets, educational opportunties, and the desire of young people in particular to travel and work overseas as a “rite of passage”.  This is very different to the world in which the post war migrants settled in Australia.  The relative ease of international travel (ease, frequency, accessibility and declining real cost) is a significant driver behind increased mobility compared to previous generations.  The depressed economy in Europe no doubt acts as a push factor encouraging migration elsewhere, but not just to Australia.  Furthermore, these migrations are less likely to be permanent than those of the past, as indicated by the shift towards long term movements in the ABS data.  Demographers know that migration is the most complex and volatile element of population change, and while there may be some increases in European migration to Australia, there is no doubt that the major sources of migrants now are Asian countries.  In the next couple of months the ABS will release updated statistics on the country of births of migrants, as well as the 2011 Census data, which I believe will confirm the trend of increased Asian populations in this country.

If you would like to receive more updates about demographic or economic trends, do follow us on twitter @dotid or subscribe to our blog (above). You may also like to visit us at

Simone - Myth Buster

Simone has a rich background in human geography, demography and urban planning – a background that was useful in her previous roles in the Commonwealth and State Governments, and now as part of the forecast team at .id. From the Queensland coast to the southern suburbs of Perth, Simone produces population and dwelling forecasts that help local governments make informed decisions about future service and planning needs. She is a regular contributor to .id’s blog and has spoken at several conferences on how our cities and regions are changing. She is a big advocate of evidence-based planning and how Census and other data can inform this. Outside of work Simone is a keen traveller and photographer – interests that tie in well with her professional life and help her to understand “place”.

Leave a Reply