1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2004  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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Unauthorised arrivals and overstayers in Australia

Apart from people who enter Australia via authorised means, a number of people enter Australia by unauthorised means, whether by boat or air. Unauthorised entrants are not included in long-term or permanent arrivals or net overseas migration estimates as they do not complete passenger cards. As well as those who arrive in Australia without authorisation, a number of people who have arrived in Australia on valid temporary visas remain in Australia after their visas have expired.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes estimates of the population in each state and territory every three months. These are produced by taking the population at an initial point and updating it by adding births, subtracting deaths and adding net migration. Currently, unauthorised entrants and overstayers who arrive for less than 12 months of stay in Australia are not included in these population estimates. If these people remain in Australia, they will be included at the next Census of Population and Housing.

According to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), around 2,400 unauthorised entrants arrived in Australia during 2001-02, a decrease of 57% from 2000-01 (5,660) (graph 5.35). Most of this decline was due to the decline in arrivals by boat: in 2001-02, 50% of unauthorised arrivals (1,210) arrived by boat, 71% less than in 2000-01 (4,140). The remaining 50% (1,190) arrived at Australian airports and were refused entry, 21% less than in 2000-01. The substantial decrease in unauthorised boat arrivals reversed the trend of recent years. The number of unauthorised boat arrivals in 2000-01 was only slightly below that of the previous year (4,180), which was the highest figure recorded since 1989-90. This decline may reflect the impact of recent measures by the Australian Government to discourage unauthorised arrivals.

Graph - 5.35 Arrivals of unauthorised entrants, By air and sea

As many unauthorised entrants have no travel documents on arrival in Australia, the citizenship of these entrants is sometimes difficult to determine. The origin country of the arrivals by air is used when citizenship is not available, while ethnicity is used for unauthorised entrants arriving by boat. In 2001-02, 13% of unauthorised entrants arriving in Australia by air originated in Malaysia, 11% originated in New Zealand, 8% originated in the Republic of (South) Korea and 8% originated in China (table 5.36). Most recent unauthorised arrivals by sea were Chinese, Turkish, Iraqi, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Afghan or Bangladeshi. This contrasts with earlier arrivals by boat, who were mainly Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian.

By source country - 2001-02

Source country

China (excl. SARs & Taiwan Prov.)
New Zealand
Korea, Republic of (South)
United States of America
United Kingdom

Source: Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Fact Sheet 74, Unauthorised Arrivals by Air and Sea.


Initially overstayers arrive in Australia with valid temporary visas. When gaining a visa to enter Australia, people agree to comply with the conditions of that visa and to leave Australia before it expires. When in Australia, applications for visa extensions can be requested for legitimate reasons. However a small proportion (less than 1%) become overstayers. According to DIMIA, the majority of people who overstay their visa are simply extending a short stay in Australia by a few days or weeks and leave of their own accord. Others overstay in the hope of living and working in Australia.

At 30 June 2002, Australia’s stock of overstayers was estimated at 60,000 people. Approximately 19% had overstayed their visa by less than a year and a further 14% had overstayed by between one and two years, whereas 27% had overstayed their visa by 10 years or more.


Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Fact Sheet 74, Unauthorised Arrivals by Air and Sea.