Morrison Government hides immigration boom in bridging visas


By Leith van Onselen

Ever since the Morrison Government announced that it would cut Australia’s permanent migrant intake to 160,000, in order to “relieve congestion in the cities”, MB has declared it a fake cut. This view is based on the fact that while the permanent migrant intake has been moderately reduced, the Coalition has opened the floodgates to a variety of temporary work visas, increased temporary old-age parental visas by 15,000 a year, and has allowed the number of migrants on bridging visas to swell.

Indeed, the April Federal Budget exposed these fake cuts, with net overseas migration (NOM) projected to be higher over the forward estimates than the latest 240,000 figure reported by the ABS:

One of the reasons why NOM continues to rise in the face of the lower permanent migrant intake is because temporary bridging visas – awarded to migrants awaiting substantive applications for permanent residency – have ballooned.


The March quarter temporary migrant data has been released by the Department of Home Affairs, which shows that the number of bridging visas on issue has surged from 107,000 in March 2014 to 230,000 as at March 2019 – an increase of 123,000:

Moreover, there has been a huge 75,000 lift in the number of bridging visas over the past two years alone as the permanent migrant intake was cut.


Jonathan Granger, director of Granger Australia and a former national president of the Migration Institute of Australia, previously described the migration program as “chaotic”, as evidenced by the blow-out in bridging visas:

“The resources available to the department are limited every year by Government, and yet Government rolls out reform agendas that are not well thought through, that require transitional arrangements and require multiple layers of processing against regulations in the same visa areas,” he said.

“The result of those things is significant delays”..

Mr Granger said the program changes and lack of resources meant there were growing numbers of visa refusals that ended up at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The most “chaotic” aspects of Australia’s immigration program is not the surge in bridging visas, but its sheer size, which is running at roughly triple the historical average:


And this comes despite the majority of Australians favouring a lower immigration intake, as evidenced by most recent opinion polls:

  • Newspoll: 56% want lower immigration;
  • Essential: 54% believe Australia’s population is growing too fast and 64% believe immigration is too high;
  • Lowy: 54% of people think the total number of migrants coming to Australia each year is too high;
  • Newspoll: 74% of voters support the Coalition Government’s cut of more than 10% to the annual permanent migrant intake to 163,000 last financial year;
  • CIS: 65% in the highest income decile and 77% in the lowest believe that immigration should be cut or paused until critical infrastructure has caught up;
  • ANU: Only three out of 10 Australians believe the nation needs more people;
  • Newspoll: 80% of NSW voters do not want the state’s population to increase.
  • Australian Population Research Institute: 72% of voters say Australia does not need more people; 50% want immigration to be reduced.

Instead of juking the immigration statistics with transitional bridging visas, the Morrison Government should simply listen to the wishes of the electorate and halve the immigration intake back to historical levels.

I’m not be holding my breath though.

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About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.