Axe parent visas to ease population, fiscal and skills shortage pressures


The ANU’s Alan Gamlen says that partner migrants should be used to solve skills shortages.

“An important part of the thinking going into this points system recalibration is how can we find low-hanging fruit among the family migrants – in terms of targeting applicants with attributes that best predict success in Australia, and possibly also in terms of reducing barriers faced by family-stream migrants and the partners of skilled visa holders”, Gamlen told The AFR.

Immigration influencer Abul Rizvi agreed, noting that “many of them have highly valued skills. They actually perform quite well in the Australian labour market, according to survey data”.

Their claims came at the same time that Peter McDonald published a paper on the ANU’s Migration Propaganda Hub admitting that most of Australia’s permanent migrant program is actually unskilled:


“While it is commonly believed that our permanent migration is a skilled program, only about one third of new permanent residents are selected even partly based on their skills. And less than 10% are primary applicants in the Skilled Independent category”.

“By far the largest category of new permanent residents, about 100,000 per annum are partners – partners of skilled immigrants in the Skilled Stream and partners of Australian citizens and permanent residents in the Family Stream, who are not tested for their skills (Department of Home Affairs 2023)”.

There is certainly merit in using partner visas more effectively in Australia’s workforce. Partner skills also need to be given more scrutiny when selecting primary skilled migrants.

That said, why isn’t there more discussion on closing the parental visa rort, which costs taxpayers a fortune, adds to population pressures, and worsens shortages by adding to the demand for infrastructure and services without contributing to supply?

Last year, The ABC cited Treasury estimates that each parent permanent migrant costs Australian taxpayers $393,000.


The article also noted that “there were 27,692 new parent visa applications lodged between May 2022 and May this year, taking the backlog across the seven subclasses to 138,508 as at the end of May”.

So, the federal budget would be in the hole to the tune of $54.4 billion if all of these parent visas were granted.

Peter Strachan made the salient observation that parental visas actually create skills shortages because parent visas “create more demand for services and become dependents”:

Peter Strachan tweet

Years ago, the Productivity Commission (PC) estimated that the cost of the 7,000 to 9,000 parent visas issued every year was between $335 000 and $410 000 per adult in net present value terms. The PC also warned that these visas divert scarce taxpayer funding from other government programs:

“Overall, the cumulated lifetime fiscal costs (in net present value terms) of a parent visa holder in 2015-16 is estimated to be between $335 000 and $410 000 per adult, which ultimately must be met by the Australian community”.


“Ultimately, every dollar spent on one social program must require either additional taxes or forgone government expenditure in other areas. It seems unlikely that parent visas meet the usual standards of proven need, in contrast to areas such as mental health, homelessness or, in the context of immigration, the support of immigrants through the humanitarian stream, and foreign aid”.

The majority of one’s health-care costs typically arise in their final years.

Therefore, importing thousands of elderly parents who have made no contributions to Australia is foolish policy.

There is no magic pudding in Australian public finance. Parent visas are a major financial drain on taxpayers, reducing funding for other programs like schools, hospitals, the Aged Pension, JobSeeker, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and infrastructure.

The financial cost of parental visas is already considerable and rising, threatening the feasibility of Australia’s health system and welfare state.


Parent visas also undermine the false premise that a strong migration program is essential to mitigating an ageing population. Instead, these visas directly exacerbate the ageing issue.

The Albanese government should follow the PC’s recommendation and axe parent visas immediately.

Just because someone comes to Australia as an economic migrant does not mean they are entitled to bring their parents along at taxpayers’ expense.

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.