3416.0 - Perspectives on Migrants, 2009  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/04/2009   
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The focus of Australia's immigration program has fluctuated according to the economic and political priorities of the day - from programs aimed at bringing in workers to build up Australia's manufacturing industries in the 1950s and 1960s, to the broader focus of the last twenty years that has encompassed social (family reunification), humanitarian (including refugee) as well as economic (skilled) migration objectives (Parliamentary Library 2006).

In the twelve years to 2007-08, over 1.3 million visas were granted under Australia's permanent immigration program. Over that period, the program has increasingly focused on encouraging skilled migration to Australia, to the extent that skilled migrants now comprise the single largest group of permanent migrants. In 2007-08, a total of 108,540 permanent skilled visas were granted, equivalent to just over two skilled visas granted for every family visa granted.

Temporary migration has also played a role in skilled migration. In 2007-08, close to 418,000 business visitor visas (DIAC 2009) were granted. These visas allow visitors to make short business related trips to Australia for up to three months. In addition, Australian employers, unable to fill skill shortages from the local labour market, sponsored 110,570 (DIAC 2009) skilled workers to work and live in Australia on a temporary basis for up to four years on Business (Long Stay) visas in 2007-08.

By participating in the labour force, skilled migrants provide a substantial net contribution to Australia's economy initially, and increasingly over time. Based on the 2006-07 migrant intake, it is estimated that this contribution is around $580.7 million in the first year; $955.6 million by year 10, and $1.01 billion by year 20 (Access Economics 2008).

This article describes key trends in the skilled migration of overseas born individuals to Australia. It examines the permanent skilled migration program and the characteristics of skilled migrants, with a particular focus on the period 1997-98 to 2007-08.

This article draws on several publications produced by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), as well as data sourced from the Settlements Database. These are available from DIAC's website:http://www.immi.gov.au/. The 'grants' and 'settler' arrivals data used in this article utilise different concepts and definitions and this impacts on the extent to which data from these different sources can be directly compared.

It should also be noted, when considering skilled visa counts, that approximately half of all skilled visas are issued to dependents and persons accompanying the primary applicant of the skilled visa. Dependent outcomes are addressed later in this article, as well as in Migrant Characteristics and Settlement Outcomes of Secondary Applicants, a related article in this series.


The Skill stream of Australia's permanent Migration Program provides for over 60 skilled visa subclasses, each with their own characteristics and criteria leading to permanent residency in Australia. In this article, the skilled visa subclasses are broadly grouped as follows: Skilled Independent, Skilled Australian Sponsored / State and Territory Sponsored, Employer Sponsored, Business Skills and Distinguished Talents.

Most skilled visas require applicants to pass the General Skilled Migration (GSM) points test. Applicants are then selected on a number of criteria including their age, English language ability, qualifications, work experience, nominations or sponsorships, and their nominated skilled occupation (DIAC Fact Sheet 25).

The Migration Occupations in Demand List (MODL) specifies those occupations and specialisations identified by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), as being in short supply and in demand. Currently there are just over 100 occupations on the list, (DIAC (MODL)), in categories ranging from Managers and Administrators (2 listed), Professionals (53 listed), Associate Professionals (2) and Trade Persons (49).

Since 2008, there has been a significant change in Australia’s economic circumstances as a result of the global financial crisis. In response to these changes, a more targeted approach to the 2008-09 Skilled Migration Program was introduced from 1 January 2009 (DIAC Fact Sheet - Changes to the 2008-09 Skilled Migration Program). The main changes include a reduction in the number of skilled visas to be granted in 2008-09, priority processing of employer, state and regional sponsored, and business skills visas, and the introduction of the Critical Skills List (CSL) of occupations. The CSL gives priority to applications where individuals have skills or qualifications in one of the critical demand occupations. Currently on the CSL there are just over 40 professional occupations listed, such as: Engineers, Emergency Medical Specialist, Pharmacists, Pathologists, Registered Nurses and Surveyors (DIAC Critical Skills List).


Since 1995-96, of the 1.3 million non-humanitarian visas granted for permanent settlement in Australia, close to 774,000 were skilled visas. Australia's immigration program has increasingly been driven by skilled migration over this period, rising from 24,100 skilled visas granted in 1995-96 to 108,540 granted in 2007-08. The following graph illustrates the number of skilled, family and special eligibility visas granted from 1995-96 to 2007-08.

Permanent Non-Humanitarian Visa Grants(a): 1995-96 to 2007-08
Graph: Permanent Non-Humanitarian Visa Grants, 1995-96 to 2007-08

In 1995-96, over two-thirds of non-humanitarian visas granted were family visas (56,700), compared to 24,100 (29%) skilled visas. Two years later, the number of skilled visas exceeded family visas granted - 34,700 (52%) were skilled visas, and 31,300 (47%) were family visas. The gap between skilled and family visas granted began to widen from 1999-00, to the extent that by 2007-08 skilled visas accounted for more than two-thirds of non-humanitarian visas granted. Although the proportion of family visas over the period has declined, the actual number of family visas granted grew, from 32,000 in 1999-00, to over 42,200 in 2003-04, and close to 49,900 in 2007-08.

Reflecting the period for which more detailed data on skilled migration are available, the remainder of this article focuses on the period from 1997-98 to 2007-08. The analysis will focus on the four largest broad skilled groups, as they comprised the majority of permanent skilled visas granted (approximately 99%) since 1997-98.

The four groups are: Skilled Independent, Employer Sponsored, Skilled Australian Sponsored / State and Territory Sponsored, and Business Skills visas.

Proportion of Skilled Visa Grants(a), by Broad Groups(b) - 1997-98 and 2007-08
Proportion of skilled visa grants by broad groups, 1997-98 to 2007-08

Skilled Independent visas comprise the largest group, with just over half (51%) of all skilled visas granted in 2007-08, up from a 38% share in 1997-98. The next largest group in 2007-08, were visas sponsored directly by Australian employers (Employer Sponsored), under the Employer Nomination Scheme, Labour Agreements and the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. In 2007-08, this group comprised just over one-fifth (22%) of skilled visa grants, up from 17% a decade ago. Family, state and territory government sponsored visas (Skilled Australian Sponsored / State and Territory Sponsored) closely followed, with around one-fifth (20%) of skilled visa grants, down from the 28% share they held in 1997-98.

Business Skills visas, granted to successful business people wishing to permanently migrate to Australia, comprised 6% of skilled visas granted in 2007-08, but down from 15% in 1997-98.


The previous section provided some background to the Skilled Migration Program in the context of the number of visas granted. This section focuses on the characteristics of skilled 'settlers', that is, those individuals that actually 'arrived' in Australia on a permanent skilled visa, or those who were subsequently granted a permanent skilled visa onshore after initially arriving on a temporary or provisional visa.It should be noted that the reference period for these data relates to the 'arrival date', and that this is defined differently in the case of offshore and onshore migrants. For visa applicants who applied for a permanent visa overseas (offshore), this refers to the period when they 'next' arrived in Australia, after they were granted a permanent visa. Temporary residents who are granted a permanent visa whilst already in Australia (onshore), are counted in the period when they 'last' arrived in Australia, before they were granted a permanent visa.

Country of Birth

Skilled settlers arriving during 2007-08 were mainly born in the UK, India, China and South Africa. Together, these countries accounted for over half (59%) of all skilled settlers, compared to just under half (49%) of skilled settlers a decade ago. In all, over 180 countries were represented by skilled settlers arriving in 2007-08 (DIAC Special Data Request).

The following graph illustrates the proportion of skilled settlers and all settlers arriving in 1997-98 and 2007-08, by the four largest country of birth groups arriving in 2007-08.

Skilled Settlers, Top Four Countries of Birth in 2007-08 - 1997-98 and 2007-08
Skilled settlers, Top four countries of birth in 2007-08, 1997-98 to 2007-08

Throughout the ten year period, the largest group of skilled settlers was born in the UK. They represented just over one-in-four (27%) skilled settlers arriving in 2007-08, up from 21% ten years earlier. The next two largest skilled groups arriving in 2007-08 were born in India and China, and they accounted for 16% and 11% of skilled arrivals respectively. Those born in South Africa represented the fourth largest group in 2007-08, accounting for 6% of skilled arrivals, but down from 14% (and second place) in 1997-98. The absolute numbers of South African born settlers has remained relatively constant throughout this period, however, the proportional decrease reflects the growth in arrivals of UK, Indian and Chinese born skilled settlers.

Age Profile

Skilled migrants exhibit a younger age profile than the Australian resident population. From 1997-98 to 2007-08, 57% of skilled arrivals (including dependents) were aged 29 years and under (DIAC Settlement Database). In contrast, 40% of the estimated Australian resident population was aged 29 years and under, as at 30 June 2008 (ABS 2008).

Age Profile, by Share of Skilled Settlers - 1997-98 to 2007-08
Age profile by share of skilled settlers, 1997-98 to 2007-08

As indicated above, in the decade since 1997-98, over half (56%) of skilled settlers were aged between 20 and 39 years upon arrival in Australia (compared to 63% of the family stream).

Skilled migrants often settle in Australia with their dependents (generally these include any accompanying persons, their spouse, or children). From 1997-98 to 2007-08, an average of nearly one-in-five (18%) skilled arrivals were children aged 9 years and under, and when combined with 10 to 19 year olds, they comprised 29% of skilled arrivals. In contrast, persons aged 9 years and under comprised 8% of settler arrivals on a family visa, and 18% of family arrivals when combined with 10 to 19 year olds.

In the decade to 2007-08, only 2% of skilled settlers were aged 50 years and over (compared to 11% of the family stream settlers).
Number of Dependents

This section compares the number of dependents arriving under specific offshore and onshore skilled visas. Since 1997-98, offshore primary skilled visa holders had, on average, a greater number of dependents (1.5 per primary applicant) than onshore skilled visa holders (0.6 dependents per primary applicant).

Top 10 Skilled Visa Subclasses, By Average Number of Dependents and Proportion of Skilled Settlers - 1997-98 to 2007-08

Average dependents
Proportion of offshore skilled settlers
Total settlers

Skilled - Independent (subclass 136)
210 578
Independent (subclass 126)
52 690
Skilled - Australian-Sponsored (subclass 138)
36 791
Skilled - Designated Area Sponsored (subclass 139)
36 763
Skilled - Australian-linked (subclass 105)
34 632
Business owner (subclass 127)
27 428
Skilled - State/Territory Nominated Independent (subclass 137)
13 414
Employer nomination (subclass 121)
12 923
State/Territory Sponsored Business Owner (Provisional) (subclass 163)
11 539
Skilled - Independent Regional (Provisional) (subclass 495)
8 142
39 441
Total Offshore
484 341
Skilled - Independent Overseas Student (subclass 880)
84 457
Employer Nomination Scheme (subclass 856)
63 063
Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (subclass 857)
16 879
Established business in Australia (subclass 845)
7 777
Skilled - Australian-Sponsored Overseas Student (subclass 881)
7 221
Labour Agreement (subclass 855)
7 201
Skilled (subclass 805)
5 196
Skilled - Designated Area-Sponsored Overseas Student (subclass 882)
4 963
Skilled - Independent (subclass 885)
3 899
State/Territory Sponsored Business Owner (Residence) (subclass 892)
3 846
9 641
Total Onshore
214 143

Source: DIAC Special Data Request

The relatively low number of dependents for onshore skilled visa holders reflects the fact that a high proportion of onshore primary applicants are students. From 1997-98 to 2007-08, 45% of onshore skilled settlers held a skilled student visas (subclass 880, 881 or 882), in contrast to less than 2% of offshore skilled settlers.

Compared to other skilled migrants, both onshore and offshore holders of skilled student visas (subclass 880, 881 or 882) are less likely to be accompanied by dependents. They have on average less than 0.3 dependents per primary applicant, compared to the overall skilled average, of 0.6 dependents (for onshore) and 1.5 dependents (for offshore).

Occupation Before and After Migration to Australia

The following table lists the occupation groups of primary holders of permanent skilled visas, prior to and after migration to Australia. It includes those primary visa holders who arrived in Australia after 1997 (excluding New Zealanders), were aged 15 years and over on arrival, and who were employed at the time of the survey (in November 2007).

Currently Employed Recent Skilled Migrants(a), By Occupation Group

Just before migration
First paid job after arrival

Did not have a job
. .
. .
Technicians and Trades Workers
Community and Personal Service Workers
Clerical and Administrative Workers
Sales Workers
Machinery Operators And Drivers

* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
. . not applicable
np not available for publication but included in totals where applicable, unless otherwise indicated
(a) Primary applicant recent migrant whose initial permanent visa was skilled and who was employed at the time of the survey.
(b) Includes occupation not known or unable to be determined.
Source: ABS 2007 (unpublished data, available on request)

Professionals comprise the largest group of recent skilled settlers and are followed by Technicians and Trades Workers. Just before migrating, 41% of skilled settlers were Professionals and 19% were Technicians and Trades Workers.

Initially, fewer Professionals are likely to be in a similar occupation with only 29% of all skilled arrivals employed as Professionals in their first job in Australia. By contrast 39% of skilled recent migrants were subsequently employed in a professional role. The proportion of Technicians and Trades Workers did not change significantly after arrival in Australia, with close to 19% employed as Technicians and Trades Workers before migrating, and in their current job.

Around 11% of recent migrants took up labouring jobs when they first started working in Australia, but only 4% are currently employed in this occupation.


ABS 2007, Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Recent Migrants, Australia, Nov 2007, cat. no. 6250.0, ABS, Canberra.

ABS 2008, Population by Age and Sex, Australian States and Territories, June 2008, cat. no. 3201.0, ABS, Canberra.

Access Economics 2008, Migrants Fiscal Impact Model: 2008 Update, <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/research/>.

DIAC 2008, Annual Report 2007-08, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC 2004, Annual Report 2003-04, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC 2003, Annual Report 2002-03, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC 2002, Annual Report 2001-02, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC 2001, Annual Report 2000-01, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC 2000, Annual Report 1999-00, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC 1999, Annual Report 1998-99, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC 1998, Annual Report 1997-98, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC 1997, Annual Report 1996-97, <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/>.

DIAC Critical Skills List, viewed 19 March 2009, <http://www.immi.gov.au/>.

DIAC Fact Sheet - Changes to the 2008-09 Skilled Migration Program, viewed 15 January 2009, <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/>.

DIAC Fact Sheet 25, viewed 7 January 2009, <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/>.

DIAC Migration Program Statistics, viewed 22 October 2008, <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/statistics/statistical-info/visa-grants/>.

DIAC (MODL), Migrant Occupations in Demand List, viewed 7 January 2009, <http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/general-skilled-migration/skilled-occupations/>.

DIAC 2009, Population Flows - Immigration Aspects 2007-08, <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/>.

DIAC Settlement Database, Skilled Settlers, viewed 4 November 2008, <http://www.immi.gov.au/living-in-australia/delivering-assistance/settlement-reporting-facility/>.

DIAC Special Data Request, 23 January 2009 <http://www.immi.gov.au/>.

Parliamentary Library 2006, Parliament of Australia, E-Brief 5 June 2006, Skilled Migration to Australia, last viewed December 2008 <http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/SP/>.