Permanent migration is behind a ‘Big Australia’

The ‘Big Australia’ lobby continues to hit back at Kristina Keneally’s call to lower immigration post COVID-19, which has run at extraordinary levels since the mid-2000s:

Over the weekend, The Age’s View called for a lift in permanent migration post COVID-19:

About half of our permanent visas go to temporary visa holders who want to stay here and contribute. Yet we have made it harder for them to do that…

The government must provide greater support to those on temporary visas. We cannot turn our back on them. But we must also reconsider the temporary skilled worker visa scheme, particularly when it does not lead to permanent residency. It creates a situation that is unfair – for the sum of us.

Federal Labor backbencher, Julian Hill, also called for a “kickstart” to immigration via a lift in the permanent migrant intake:

Julian Hill – who sits on the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Migration… said that far from cutting the flow of permanent migrants, “Australia will continue to need permanent migrants to build a life here, helping to boost demand and pay down Australia’s post-COVID debt”, as well as slow down the ageing of the population…

Whereas former ANU economics professor, Andrew Leigh, demanded a “strong immigration program” to protect the rent-seeking university sector:

“If we want a strong higher education sector, a strong immigration program is essential,” he said.

“Turning off the migration tap is not just disastrous for the finances of universities but also for their academic mission. We need to be open to migration.”

While Australia’s net overseas migration (NOM) has recently been driven by the strong increase in the stock of temporary migrants:

Over the long-term, Australia’s population growth is driven overwhelmingly by permanent migration.

To illustrate why, consider the 2016 Census. This revealed that Australia’s population increased by a whopping 1.9 million people (+8.8%) in the five years to 2016, driven by a 1.3 million increase in people born overseas (i.e. new migrants):

Over the same period, the stock of temporary migrants increased by a relatively modest 448,818 people. The rest (850,000) were permanent migrants.

Moreover, temporary residents are by definition temporary. Therefore, unless they can convert to permanent residency, they will have to leave eventually.

Thus, it is the permanent migrant intake that is the key driver of Australia’s population growth since this is what grows the population base over time both directly, as well as indirectly as these new Australian permanent residents have children (counted as ‘natural increase’).

To really hammer the point home, let’s conduct a quick thought experiment. If Australia theoretically slashed the permanent migrant intake to zero, there would be three broad impacts on population growth:

  1. It would reduce the flow of temporary migrants, since many migrants enter Australia on temporary visas first hoping to transition to one of the many permanent non-humanitarian visas handed out each year (capped at 160,000). Eliminating permanent visas eliminates the probability of gaining permanent residency and, therefore, the incentive to come to Australia in the first place.
  2. The temporary migrants that cannot transition to permanent residency because the permanent intake has closed would have to leave Australia, thus significantly lowering net overseas migration (NOM) and population growth.
  3. Fewer permanent residencies means less migrants having children, thereby reducing natural increase as well.

In short, if the permanent migrant intake was hypothetically reduced to zero, then temporary migrants would have to leave, inflows would roughly match outflows (over the longer-term), and NOM and by extension Australia’s population would barely increase:

Andrew Leigh’s claim that “a strong immigration program is essential” to bolster university finances is tacit acknowledgement of these facts. If the carrot of permanent residency was removed, international student temporary visas numbers would collapse since there would be no longer be any incentive to study in Australia.

Thus, while slashing temporary migrant numbers is vital, we cannot lose sight of the fact that permanent migration numbers must also be slashed, since they are the primary driver of Australia’s unsustainable population increase over the long-term.

In short, both temporary and permanent migration must be cut.

Unconventional Economist


  1. If we don’t want low skilled PR migration, where we are effectively stuck with them, we need to scrap offshore applications.

    The qualifications and experience isn’t translating to high skilled employment.

    If someone is on a temp visa undertaking high skilled genuine skill shortage work, IF we need perm residents, this is where we should be getting applications from (not graduates, not perpetual security guards or car washers or convenience store workers – if after 6 years of study to masters level and two years of a graduate visa, you’re still working at 7-11 you’re not really the type Australians want).

    But of course both parties want low skilled migration of the sort you can’t get rid of.

  2. If university’s educating arm are pros tituting themselves for research money, perhaps the educating and research arms need to be consciously decoupled?

    • Destroying any ability to collectively bargain for wages and conditions (and bringing in lots of customers for the banks and property) are the goals

  3. Note how the Empty Chair wasn’t game to contradict Keneally openly. Instead he sends out his two luvvies, Hill and Leigh. Exactly one year after their big parent-visa flop, here’s Labor proposing a big hike in partner and parent visas.

    I wouldn’t get too hung up on “permanent” migrants. As Birrell reminds us, half of each year’s permanent ‘Intake” are already parked onshore on other visas. The program is white-anted by the proliferation of multiple temporary visas.

    What really matters from year to year is Net Migration, because Treasury NOM + Natural Increase = Population Growth. Last year, Frydenberg went for 270K. The Empty Chair would be thrilled, if he went for broke this year.

    • Hill and Leigh are nobodies in the ALP. Kite-flying exercise, as one of our Dear (MB) Leaders said.

    • We need moar death stare grannies! Gotta keep the highly assimilating and contriibuting and never taking !ndians happy!

    • “I wouldn’t get too hung up on “permanent” migrants. As Birrell reminds us, half of each year’s permanent ‘Intake” are already parked onshore on other visas”.

      True. But if they weren’t granted PR, they’d have to leave (eventually), which would reduce NOM. That is, migrant departures would rise with no offsetting increase in arrivals.

      It is the permanent intake that adds to Australia’s population base over the long-run (both via NOM and natural increase). Temporaries only add temporarily.

      • Lemme put it another way. The perrmanent intake is a lie, which is why Bad Scotty wholesales it and woke academics retail it. NOM doesn’t lie, at least, not yet. It just takes a long time to get final figures.

        Why does Treasury bury NOM in back of the third Budget Paper? So they can pretend it’s a “technical” parameter that just fell out of sky. Rather than being the very engine of their “GDP growth”.

        • Some of what you say is true. However, it is the permanent migrant intake that makes migrants ‘stick’ – i.e. stay in the country and then reproduce (counted as natural increase). PR is also the carrot that encourages temporaries to come. The permanent intake is, therefore, the key program that needs to be cut; although obviously temporaries need to be slashed too.

  4. The thing with the COVID shock is that as yet nothing has really happened. Minimal major bankruptcies, fudged unemployment figures and the chattering class thinks everything will go back to normal. Most jobs that were lost were in the bullshit jobs category, they are permanently gone.
    How the government will politically sustain a unemployment rate that rises each month in line with immigration is a wonder to me. In reality it is at least 14% now, eventually the ABS will catch up. What will the do when its 20% lie and says it is really 5.2% .
    I suppose that is Newspeak. For anyone that has not read 1984 I encourage you to take it out before they ban the thing.

    • As long as the 20% don’t see each other in the same place at the same time, ‘being’ unemployed, there will be no problem. They will continue to think they are only 5%, temporarily embarrassed millionaires; small islands of despair in a boling sea of economic activity.

  5. temporary visa holders who want to stay here and contribute.

    government must provide greater support to those on temporary visas.

    As Dyllip said on 14 May:

    Schrodinger’s immigrant. Simultaneously contributing and needing support.

  6. codeazureMEMBER

    A sizeable majority of the general population consistently expresses the opinion that immigration is too high whenever polls are taken. And that percentage is increasing in recent years.

    But this matters little when every single lobby group shovelling dollars into political parties want it. Every political party wants it, apart from One Nation, which taints the discussion for everyone else, and some flyspeck sized parties like Sustainable Aus that virtually noone knows exist.

    The (fake) left wants it, the (fake) greens want it, the (big business) right wants it, the (real estate) media wants it, the (China! China! China!) education sector wants it. Virtually every person and organisation with actual power wants it. For them, the odious opinion of the general population can just go quietly f*ck itself.

    Until such time as we make this opinion heard in a way that gets their attention, all these well expressed arguments are for nothing.

    • The (true) left want it too. Equalisation between nations and races a true marxist dream, not possible without mass migration and globalism. And beyond that they are almost totally brainw*shed into supporting White genoc*de. The White working class suffering is a price they are willing to pay.
      The only ones on the left truly against it are the (rac*st) left (said not as a pejorative), and how numerous are they today and who do they vote for? I’d say if they have any sense voting One Nation, or holding their nose and voting Liberal/National.

  7. Unclear what the analysis proves but the intentions or sentiments are clear i.e. migration and/population growth negatives for Australia.

    However, what is not addressed is why has a line in the sand been drawn when e.g. post WWII there was proportionally far higher and more unskilled immigration, data needs to drill down to post codes and regions not just headline level, impact of the oldies and baby boomer bubble dropping off in coming years, present and growing imbalance between declining permanent working age population vs. growing retiree/pensioner population requiring more services, while attempting to crash the NOM which is a barometer not a target, then losing net financial contributors.

    End result, either increase taxes for all e.g. more retirees pay tax, increase PAYE, corporate and GST, or decrease access and level of services to e.g. pensioners and retirees, working age voters and youth?

    What’s it going to be? It will open open the door to US style libertarian crashing of government services and support aka ‘The Wrecking Crew’, be careful what you wish for, or is that the objective?

    • drsmithyMEMBER

      The main difference is that post-WW2 migration fed into real industry and manufacturing, and along with unionisation supporting wages growth led to increases in real incomes and hence living standards.

      Contemporary immigration feeds into unproductive services industries and property speculation, and works hand-in-hand with smashed unions, undermined workers rights and increasingly normalised casualisation to suppress wages, thus real incomes and living standards.

      What’s it going to be? It will open open the door to US style libertarian crashing of government services and support aka ‘The Wrecking Crew’, be careful what you wish for, or is that the objective?

      That door is already well and truly open, banging in the breeze.

      • Not sure how old (often god awful production line work) but unionised industry was ‘real’ while services are ‘unproductive’ e.g. health care or best of both worlds, CSL or Cochlear?

        Further, not sure how immigrants are responsible as to whether workplaces are unionised or not; possibly govt. and corporate policy?

        Libertarian trap, claiming to be working class and/or supporting the interests of traditional working class, whom are mostly retired on guaranteed minimum income voting LNP……

        • drsmithyMEMBER

          I am not suggesting all services are unproductive, but a fairly large chunk of our contemporary immigration intake heads into ones that are (like hospitality).

          I am not saying immigrants are destroying unions as an intent, simply that the employment system they are coming into looks like this and the jobs they are going into make this situation worse not better.