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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2001  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 06/06/2001   
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Contents >> Population >> Population Growth: Leaving Australia

Population Growth: Leaving Australia

Over the past five years, the number of Australian-born people leaving Australia permanently has doubled.

With a population of over 4 million people who were born in overseas countries, and high levels of immigration since the Second World War, Australia is regarded as an immigrant nation that draws people from almost all regions of the world. As numbers leaving the country annually (consistently well under half a per cent of the total population since 1975) have been considerably smaller than those arriving, issues related to emigration have not generated the same level of concern in Australia as those relating to immigration. However, in recent years there has been a steady increase in the number of people leaving Australia permanently each year, and in particular, an increased number of Australian-born people stating their intention to permanently leave Australia.

Emigration has a number of potential benefits. Emigrants can establish overseas networks for Australian goods and services exports and identify opportunities for Australian investment abroad. Furthermore, some emigrants subsequently return to Australia, bringing with them new skills and extended experience.1

In recent years, interest in emigration has shifted to its impact on the composition of the workforce. The recent higher levels of emigration are causing concern that skill shortages are being created or exacerbated in some fields.


Permanent movement
Information available from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs serves as a source for statistics of overseas arrivals and departures. Persons arriving in, or departing from, Australia provide this information in the form of incoming and outgoing passenger cards. Incoming persons also provide information in visa applications, apart from people travelling as Australian and New Zealand citizens.

Emigrants are Australian residents (including those born overseas) who on departure from Australia state that they intend to settle permanently in another country.

Immigrants are persons arriving in Australia holding permanent migration visas, New Zealand citizens who indicate an intention to settle, and those who are otherwise eligible to settle (e.g. overseas-born children of Australian citizens).


Emigration levels
Since 1975-76, permanent departures have fluctuated from a low of 18,100 in 1985-86 to a high of 41,100 in 1999-2000. The pattern of permanent departures has tended to shadow that of permanent arrivals, although at substantially lower levels and with a time lag of about two years. However in the last few years, this relationship has been less apparent because of the successively higher proportions of Australian born emigrating.

In 1999-2000, the number of Australian-born emigrants was the highest ever recorded. They represented a 17% increase on the previous year and a 58% increase on the year before that. People born in Australia comprised almost half (49%) of all permanent departures in 1999-2000, compared with 30% in 1988-89. Despite the increasing numbers of Australian-born departures, overseas-born residents were still more likely to emigrate than Australian-born residents. This was true for males and females in all age groups.

PERMANENT DEPARTURES FROM AUSTRALIA

Source: ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection.


Reasons for leaving permanently
There are many and varied reasons why emigrants might decide to leave Australia, with the main reasons differing between Australian-born and overseas-born emigrants. It has been argued that, for Australian-born persons, emigration is more likely to be a result of increasing internationalisation of labour markets and increasing global demand for skilled workers. In contrast, overseas-born emigrants often leave permanently to return to their former country of birth because of feelings of homesickness or insecurity. Older emigrants often depart after they retire from the workforce, while widowhood and divorce can also motivate departures among the overseas born.2

Age profiles
Reflecting their different mix of reasons for leaving, Australian-born emigrants tended to be younger than those born overseas. While both groups had a younger age profile than the total Australian population, Australian-born emigrants were more likely than overseas-born emigrants to be adults aged 25 to 34 years (33% compared with 22%) or to be children younger than 10 years (18% compared with 9%). The comparatively high proportion of Australian-born emigrants who were children may partly be due to the departure of families comprising overseas-born parents and their Australian-born children.

In contrast, most overseas-born emigrants (55%) were aged 35 years and over (compared with 35% of Australian-born emigrants) and a higher proportion of overseas-born than Australian-born emigrants were aged 55 years and over (13% and 5% respectively). A partial explanation for this age difference may be associated with pension portability. Since 1973, Australians entitled to receive a pension have been able to receive that pension while residing overseas. Over the years, some former immigrants have chosen to return to their country of birth with income support from Australia.3

AGE DISTRIBUTION OF AUSTRALIAN-BORN AND OVERSEAS-BORN EMIGRANTS, 1999-2000

Source: ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection.


Destinations
In their intended countries of future residence, Australian-born and overseas-born emigrants in 1999-2000 shared some similarities. New Zealand and the United Kingdom were the countries that attracted the largest numbers of both groups of emigrants. Close cultural links forged by consistently high levels of immigration over a long period are likely to have contributed to the popularity of the United Kingdom as an emigration destination. Proximity, recent high levels of immigration and reciprocal rights agreements are collectively likely to have facilitated New Zealand-bound emigration.

Yet there were also differences between the intended destinations of Australian-born and overseas-born emigrants during 1999-2000. Consistent with their younger age profile, Australian-born emigrants chose destinations that indicated employment as a major motivation for leaving in 1999-2000. In particular, Australian-born emigrants (18%) were more likely than their overseas-born counterparts (7%) to have been bound for the United States of America. The Australian born were also comparatively more likely to have been moving to Singapore (5%) and Canada (3%).

In contrast, a high proportion of overseas-born emigrants returned to their place of birth. The overseas born were relatively more likely to have been heading for Hong Kong (11%) and other regions of China (6%), both of which were major sources of recent migrants.

EMIGRATION DESTINATIONS, 1999-2000

Australian-born emigrants
Overseas-born emigrants
All emigrants(a)

Intended country of future residence
%
%
%
    New Zealand
19.0
24.5
21.8
    United Kingdom
20.7
15.7
18.2
    United States of America
17.9
7.0
12.4
    Hong Kong (SAR of China)
4.9
11.3
8.1
    Singapore
4.9
2.8
3.8
    China (excludes SARs and Taiwan Province)
1.9
5.5
3.7
    Canada
2.9
1.7
2.3
    Other
27.8
31.5
29.7
Total permanent departures(b)
100.0
100.0
100.0

‘000
‘000
‘000
Total permanent departures(c)
20.2
20.8
41.1

(a) Includes people whose country of birth was not known.
(b) People with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.
(c) Includes people with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described.

Source: ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection.


Length of residence
The pattern of overseas-born emigration has changed over the last ten years. In contrast to 1989-90, when most overseas-born emigrants (63%) were also recent immigrants (i.e. had lived in Australia for less than five years), the majority of those who emigrated during 1999-2000 were established immigrants (at least five years residence in Australia). Of the overseas-born who emigrated during 1999-2000, 23% had lived in Australia for less than two years, 24% for between two and four years, and 54% for between five and nine years. Very few (less than 1%) had lived in Australia for ten years and over. This implies that in 1999-2000 only a small proportion of older overseas-born emigrants departed after retiring from a long period in the Australian workforce.

The amount of time spent living in Australia varied among overseas-born emigrants according to their country of birth. Among overseas birthplaces with the largest number of emigrants during 1999-2000, people born in Viet Nam (63%) and New Zealand (58%) were those most likely to have lived in Australia for five years or more prior to their departure. Much lower proportions of Indonesian-born (29%) and Taiwan-born emigrants (33%) had become established immigrants.

DISTRIBUTION OF OVERSEAS-BORN EMIGRANTS BY LENGTH OF RESIDENCE

(a) Overseas-born emigrants who had lived in Australia for less than five years.
(b) Overseas-born emigrants who had lived in Australia for at least five years.

Source: ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection.


High return emigration rates among birthplaces are associated with the country of origin having good social services, relatively strong economies or cultures characterised by strong family ties. Rates are lower among settlers from countries with unsettled political conditions and/or with poor economies. Such settlers would find it either impossible or undesirable to return to their country of origin, even in times of economic downturn in Australia.4

High levels of immigration in recent years and improving political and economic conditions in some overseas countries may have contributed to the relatively brief Australian residence and the relatively high emigration rates experienced by some birthplaces. For example, approximately 31 persons per 1,000 of Australia’s Hong Kong-born community left Australia permanently in 1999-2000. Against an average overseas-born emigration rate during 1999-2000 of 5 emigrants per 1,000 residents in Australia at the start of the period, emigration rates were also above average among Chinese-born Australians (11 per 1,000). The above average rate witnessed among the New Zealand born (13 per 1,000) is likely to be a function of the largely unrestricted migration of permanent residents of Australia and New Zealand between the two countries, which is permitted under the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.

LENGTH OF AUSTRALIAN RESIDENCY OF OVERSEAS-BORN EMIGRANTS IN 1999-2000

Years resident in Australia
Median
length of
residence

Emigration
rate
Under 2
2-4
5-9
10 and over
Total
Total
Country of birth(a)
%
%
%
%
%
'000
years
rate(b)

New Zealand
19.0
23.4
57.3
0.3
100.0
4.5
5.1
13
United Kingdom
21.1
24.6
53.5
0.8
100.0
4.0
4.6
3
China (excludes SARs and Taiwan Province)
32.0
25.9
41.8
0.4
100.0
1.8
3.8
11
Hong Kong (SAR of China)
21.6
26.3
52.1
0.1
100.0
1.6
4.2
31
Taiwan
34.8
32.6
32.3
0.3
100.0
0.7
1.9
n.a.
United States of America
24.3
26.7
49.0
-
100.0
0.6
3.9
10
Viet Nam
14.8
22.7
61.8
0.7
100.0
0.5
5.3
3
Indonesia
43.8
27.2
28.8
0.2
100.0
0.4
1.4
7
Total overseas born
22.5
23.5
53.5
0.5
100.0
20.8
4.6
5

(a) Listed countries of birth are those with the most emigrants during 1999-2000.
(b) Permanent departures during 1999-2000 per 1,000 preliminary estimated population of the same country of birth resident in Australia on 30 June 1999.

Source: ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection; Australian Demographic Statistics, March Quarter 2000 (cat. no. 3101.0).


Brain drain or brain gain?
In recent years, interest in emigration has often focussed on the perception of a ‘brain drain’ caused by the departure of some of Australia’s most skilled and highly educated workers. One of the dimensions of the ‘brain drain’ issue is the concern that in some highly skilled fields, immigrants have been unable to readily and fully replace the quality and potential of those who have emigrated.

A comparison of the overall numbers of immigrants and emigrants does not take into account differences in labour force participation, field of qualifications, specialisation, talent and experience. That said, Australians aged 15 years and over who emigrated during 1999-2000 were more likely than other Australians of the same age group to have reported a usual occupation, and if so, to have reported a highly skilled usual occupation. Of these 1999-2000 emigrants, those born in Australia were more likely than those born overseas to have reported a usual occupation (82% compared with 70%).

Yet the total number of 1999-2000 emigrants aged 15 years and over who reported having a usual occupation represented a very small proportion of the total Australian workforce aged 15 years and over. Furthermore, their loss (in terms of numbers) was more than compensated for by the gain of immigrants in highly skilled occupations during this same period. Specifically, although 13,600 Managers and administrators, and Professionals departed permanently during the year, substantially more (22,600 in total) arrived to settle permanently.

Despite this considerable net gain of people with a highly skilled occupation through international migration, the broad occupational composition of the Australian workforce is likely to be barely altered as a result. Immigrating and emigrating Managers and administrators, and Professionals during 1999-2000 both represented around 1% of the 2.2 million people employed in these occupations in Australia in August 1999. Like Managers and administrators, and Professionals, immigrants outnumbered emigrants in other occupations.

Incoming and outgoing migration of lesser skilled occupations tended to constitute smaller proportions of the respective occupations employed in the Australian workforce. This difference in proportions, and even more so the difference in actual numbers, indicate that people with a highly skilled occupation are more likely than people with a lesser skilled occupation to permanently relocate to another country.

OCCUPATION OF PEOPLE AGED 15 YEARS AND OVER

August 1999 employed civilian population
1999-2000 emigrants
1999-2000 immigrants



Major group (of occupation)(Skill level(a))
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

Managers and administrators (1)
4.6
18.2
5.5
12.2
637.9
7.3
Professionals (1)
9.0
35.5
17.1
37.7
1,543.4
17.7
Associate professionals (2)
2.9
11.3
4.1
9.0
993.2
11.4
Tradespersons and related workers (3)
1.8
7.3
6.1
13.4
1,172.8
13.4
Advanced clerical and service workers (3)
1.0
3.9
1.4
3.1
376.6
4.3
Intermediate clerical, sales and service workers (4)
3.5
13.8
5.5
12.1
1,494.1
17.1
Intermediate production and transport workers (4)
0.6
2.2
1.5
3.4
775.0
8.9
Elementary clerical, sales and service workers (5)
1.5
5.8
2.6
5.8
868.9
10.0
Labourers & related workers (5)
0.5
2.1
1.5
3.2
869.6
10.0
Total(b)
(c)25.4
(d)100.0
(c)46.9
(d)100.0
8,731.6
100.0

(a) Occupations are based on the Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO) Second Edition (ABS cat. no. 1220.0), which classifies occupations by skill level ranked from 1 (the highest) to 5 (the lowest).
(b) Emigrants and immigrants who recorded a usual occupation on their passenger card, and the employed civilian population of Australia.
(c) Includes people with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described.
(d) People with qualifications whose fields were not stated, not codeable or inadequately described were excluded prior to the calculation of percentages.

Source: ABS Overseas Arrivals and Departures Collection; Labour Force Australia, August 1999 (cat. no. 6203.0).


Involuntary departure
While most people leaving Australia permanently do so by choice, some leave involuntarily. One of the services provided by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) is locating, detaining and removing unlawful non-citizens.5

During 1999-2000, 8,480 unlawful non-citizens departed Australia either as a monitored departure, a supervised departure or a removal, and 1,212 were granted a substantive visa and allowed to remain in Australia.6

In 1999-2000, 573 people who arrived without authorisation on boats were removed, and close to four in every five (1,340) of the 1,695 people who arrived without authorisation by air were removed within 72 hours. DIMA also repatriated 330 Indonesian fishermen during 1999-2000.6

People found working illegally are subject to immediate detention and removal from Australia.7 In 1999-2000, DIMA located 2,519 illegal workers.6 Criminal deportation can be considered against permanent residents who, in their first ten years of residence, commit an offence for which they are sentenced to imprisonment for at least one year. In 1999-2000, 74 such criminals were deported.5


Endnotes
1 Hugo, G. 1994, The Economic Implications of Emigration from Australia, AGPS, Canberra.

2 Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2000, Population Flows: Immigration Aspects (2000 edition), DIMA, Canberra.

3 Department of Family and Community Services 2000, Income Support Customers: a statistical overview, 1999, DFCS, Canberra.

4 Price, C. 1996, ‘Coalition immigration policy’, People and Place, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 4-8.

5 Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2000, Annual Report 1999-2000, DIMA, Canberra.

6 Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 2001, Protecting the Border: Immigration Compliance (2000 edition), DIMA, Canberra.

7 Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs 1999, Annual Report 1998-99, DIMA, Canberra.


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