Pathways to permanency

Visa pathways and characteristics of permanent migrants

Released
1/12/2023

Key statistics

  • More than half (58%) of permanent migrants were granted a permanent visa as their first visa.
  • The most common visa pathway of migrants who arrived on a temporary visa was a Student visa to a Permanent skilled visa (453,000 or 36%).
  • The visa pathway with the shortest average time was Temporary skilled to Permanent skilled (2 years, 10 months).

Australia is a multicultural country that has diversified and grown through multiple waves of migration. Australia has welcomed 3 million migrants who have permanent visas in the first two decades of the 21st Century (1 January 2000 and 10 August 2021). This article explores the visa pathways for these migrants. What proportion of permanent migrants initially had temporary status in Australia before applying for and receiving a permanent visa? Where were our migrants born and how does this change for different visa pathways? What are the occupations, industries and fields of study of our migrants?

A visa pathway is defined as the first visa type held to the last visa type held, for example, Student visa to Permanent skilled visa. This article focuses on visa pathways where a person attains a permanent visa.

Some temporary entrants may hold a visitor or bridging visa during their visa pathway. However for the purposes of this article, these visas are not identified as the start of a person’s visa pathway. Instead, to better understand a person’s purpose of migration, the next temporary visa they obtain is selected as their first visa. For this article, ‘selected’ first temporary visa held includes:

  • Temporary skilled
  • Student
  • Working Holiday Maker
  • Other temporary
  • Special Category (New Zealand citizen)

Transition time refers to the time elapsed from the grant date of the migrant’s first temporary visa to the grant date of the migrant's first permanent visa.

For the purposes of this article, a year is 365.25 days, and a month is 30.4 days. Transition times are rounded to the nearest month.

Data source

The data source used in this article is the Australian Census and Migrant Integrated Dataset 2021 (ACMID 2021).

ACMID 2021 combines Department of Home Affairs permanent migrant settlement records for arrivals between 1 January 2000 and 10 August 2021 with the 2021 Census of Population and Housing.

The 2021 Census was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when international borders were closed. This impacted the number and type of visa holders who were present in Australia on 10 August 2021. Please consider this when making comparisons with other data sources.

Further information regarding scope, coverage, and concepts can be found in the Permanent migrants in Australia methodology. For definitions of terms, refer to the Permanent migrants in Australia glossary.

Visa pathways

Migrants to Australia can achieve permanent resident status via different visa pathways. Some are granted permanent visas offshore, while others are granted permanent visas onshore, after initial migration on a temporary visa. Some migrants hold multiple temporary visas and bridging visas before achieving permanent residency.

ACMID 2021 provides new insights as to how a migrant may have moved (or transitioned) from one temporary visa to another before becoming a permanent migrant. This article provides information on:

  • the first temporary visa held by permanent visa holders who arrived between 1 January 2000 and 10 August 2021
  • the time it took from when a first temporary visa was granted until permanent residency was achieved
  • education, employment, and country of birth for people who took particular pathways.

Pathways to permanency

Of the 3 million migrants who arrived in Australia and were granted permanent status between 1 January 2000 and 10 August 2021:

  • 1.7 million people arrived on permanent visas
  • 1.3 million people arrived on temporary visas.
  1. First temporary visa excludes bridging and visitor visas, and visas prior to a break in visa history for 12 months or more. For more information go to Visa transitions in Permanent Migrants in Australia methodology.

Visa pathways(a) of permanent migrants

Flowchart of visa pathways of migrants from first visa to permanent visa

Visa pathways(a) of permanent migrants

1.7 million migrants arrived in Australia on permanent visas. These visas are made up of:

  • 759,900 Permanent skilled visas
  • 716,700 Permanent family visas
  • 261,700 Permanent humanitarian visas
  • 1,100 Other permanent visas.

1.3 million migrants arrived in Australia on temporary visas. These were made up of:

  • 587,500 Student visas
  • 401,700 Temporary skilled visas
  • 162,000 Working Holiday Makers
  • 41,400 Special Category (New Zealand citizen) visas
  • 73,000 Other temporary visas

The temporary visa holders transitioned to the following permanent visas:

  • 1 million Permanent skilled visas
  • 245,700 Permanent family visas
  • 20,900 Permanent humanitarian visas
  • 200 Other permanent visas.

 

Arrived on a permanent visa

For Skilled and Family migrants who arrived on a permanent visa between 2000 and 2021, four of the same countries were among the top five source countries of birth (India, China, England and Philippines).

However, the main source countries of those on Humanitarian visas were different, with Iraq and Afghanistan being the two most common countries of birth for these migrants.

Top five countries of birth of migrants by the permanent visa on which they arrived
SkilledProportion (%)FamilyProportion (%)HumanitarianProportion (%)
India20.8China(a)14.7Iraq22.3
England13.8India9.8Afghanistan10.5
China(a)9.8Philippines8.3Myanmar8.0
South Africa7.3Vietnam6.8Syria7.8
Philippines5.6England6.7Iran5.6
  1. Excludes Taiwan and Special Administrative Regions (SARs) which comprise ‘Hong Kong (SAR of China)’ and ‘Macau (SAR of China).’

For migrants who arrived on a permanent visa:

  • Residential Care Services and Social Assistance Services were in the three most common industries for Family and Humanitarian visa holders.
  • Carers and Aides was the most common occupation for Family, and Humanitarian visa holders.
  • Business and Management among the three most common fields of study for qualified Skilled, Family, and Humanitarian visa holders.
Top three industries, occupations and qualification fields of study of migrants by the permanent visa on which they arrived
 SkilledProportion (%)FamilyProportion (%)HumanitarianProportion (%)
IndustryProfessional, Scientific and Technical Services7.3Food and Beverage Services7.1Social Assistance Services8.2
Computer System Design and Related Services5.7Residential Care Services5.5Construction Services7.4
Hospitals5.3Social Assistance Services5.2Residential Care Services5.4
OccupationICT Professionals9.3Carers and Aides11.3Carers and Aides15.0
Specialist Managers9.2Cleaners and Laundry Workers5.2Factory Process Workers8.0
Business, Human Resource and Marketing Professionals9.2Sales Assistants and Salespersons 5.1Construction Trades Workers7.3
Field of study of qualificationBusiness and Management10Business and Management10.0Human Welfare Studies and Services14.9
Accounting7.5Human Welfare Studies and Services6.2Business and Management6.2
Electrical and Electronic Engineering and Technology6.0Accounting6.1Nursing5.3

Arrived on a temporary visa

Pathways from a temporary visa to permanency can vary from being quite direct to being more complex, varying in number and types of visas held.

Two-thirds (66%) of permanent migrants who arrived on a temporary visa followed the two most common temporary-to-permanent visa pathways:

  • Student-to-skilled (36% or 453,000 people)
  • Skilled-to-skilled (30% or 384,700 people).

Of the 1.3 million permanent migrants who arrived on a temporary visa, over one-third (36% or 450,000 people) held three or more temporary visas before being granted permanency. The majority of these (368,000 people) were Permanent skilled migrants.

For the student-to-skilled pathway, 60% (or 273,800 people) held three or more temporary visas before being granted a permanent visa. In contrast, for the skilled-to-skilled pathway, only 4.5% (or 17,200 people) held three or more temporary visas prior to reaching permanency.

Number of temporary visas held by selected first temporary visa(a) by first permanent visa stream
 Permanent skilledPermanent familyPermanent humanitarianTotal(b)
One or two temporary visas
Temporary skilled367,50014,200900382,700
Student179,30070,9008,500258,700
Working Holiday Maker41,40068,600200110,200
Other temporary35,80011,4008,90056,200
Special Category (New Zealand citizen)(c)6,4001,00007,500
Total one or two temporary visas630,400166,20018,400815,200
Three or more temporary visas
Temporary skilled17,2001,800019,000
Student273,80053,1002,000328,000
Working Holiday Maker35,20016,30020051,700
Other temporary12,5004,10030016,900
Special Category (New Zealand citizen)(c)29,7004,300034,000
Total three or more temporary visas368,40079,5002,500450,400
Total temporary visa holders
Temporary skilled384,70016,000900401,700
Student453,000124,00010,400587,500
Working Holiday Maker76,70084,900300162,000
Other temporary48,30015,5009,20073,000
Special Category (New Zealand citizen)(c)      36,1005,300-  41,400
Total998,800245,70020,9001,265,600

      Numbers are perturbed and there may be discrepancies in the total rows and columns.

      1. Bridging and visitor visas are not included as first temporary visa.
      2. Number of permanent migrants who arrived on a temporary visa. Includes migrants in the ‘permanent other’ stream.
      3. New Zealand citizens need a new Special Category visa each time they visit Australia. This means they are more likely to have held multiple visas before being granted permanency.

       

      For migrants who transitioned from a temporary to a permanent visa:

      • India and China were among the five most common countries of birth for migrants in the student-to-skilled, skilled-to-skilled, and student-to-family pathways.
      • Professional, Scientific and Technical Services was one of the three most common industries for migrants in the student-to-skilled, skilled-to-skilled, and student-to-family pathways.
      • Business, Human Resource and Marketing Professionals was the most common occupation for migrants in the student-to-skilled and student-to-family pathways.
      • Business and Management was among the three most common fields of study of qualifications for migrants in the student-to-skilled, skilled-to-skilled, and student-to-family pathways.
      Top five countries of birth of migrants by the most common temporary-to-permanent pathways
      Student-to-skilledProportion (%)Skilled-to-skilledProportion (%)Student-to-familyProportion (%)
      India25.6India17.8China(a)19.0
      China(a)20.8England15.5Vietnam9.8
      Nepal6.5Philippines11.6India7.9
      Malaysia4.2South Africa10.2Thailand6.1
      Korea, Republic of (South)3.4China(a)5.7Brazil4.7
      1. Excludes Taiwan and Special Administrative Regions (SARs) which comprise ‘Hong Kong (SAR of China)’ and ‘Macau (SAR of China).’
      Top three industries, occupations and qualification fields of study of migrants by the most common temporary-to-permanent pathways
       Student-to-skilledProportion (%)Skilled-to-skilledProportion (%)Student-to-familyProportion (%)
      IndustryProfessional, Scientific and Technical Services8.1Hospitals10.3Food and Beverage Services8.0
      Hospitals7.0Professional, Scientific and Technical Services7.7Professional, Scientific and Technical Services7.3
      Food and Beverage Services6.1Computer System Design and Related Services6.1Other Store-Based Retailing4.8
      OccupationBusiness, Human Resource and Marketing Professionals12.1Health Professionals9.3Business, Human Resource and Marketing Professionals13.1
      Health Professionals10.4Specialist Managers7.7Carers and Aides10.1
      Specialist Managers6.9ICT Professionals6.1Specialist Managers7.5
      Qualified field of studyAccounting16.2Business and Management9.6Business and Management16.7
      Business and Management10.3Nursing9.0Accounting10.9
      Information Technology, nfd8.8Engineering and Related Technologies, nfd5.3Food and Hospitality5.4

       

      Transition times

      The average time from a temporary to a permanent visa varied from 2 years, 10 months for Temporary skilled visa holders to 7 years, 9 months for Special Category (New Zealand citizens).

      1. Years are presented as decimal fractions. These have been rounded to the nearest month in the commentary.
      2. First temporary visa excludes bridging and visitor visas, and visas prior to a break in visa history for 12 months or more. For more information go to Visa transitions in Permanent Migrants in Australia methodology.

      For temporary-to-permanent visa pathways:

      • Skilled-to-skilled had the shortest average time (2 years, 10 months)
      • Special category-to-family had the longest (8 years, 2 months).

      Those who took the most common temporary-to-permanent visa pathway, student-to-skilled, took five years to achieve permanency on average. This transition time is consistent with students moving to other temporary visas such as a post-study work stream visa that allows international students to live and work in Australia for two to four years after completing their studies. In 2021 there was over 89,000 people in Australia with this type of temporary visa (ACTEID, 2021).

      Visa pathways by average time
      Temporary visa(a)Permanent visa(a)Average time(b)
      SkilledSkilled2 years, 10 months
      Working Holiday MakerFamily3 years, 5 months
      OtherHumanitarian3 years, 6 months
      OtherSkilled3 years, 7 months
      StudentHumanitarian3 years, 10 months
      SkilledFamily4 years, 3 months
      Working Holiday MakerSkilled4 years, 8 months
      StudentFamily4 years, 10 months
      OtherFamily4 years, 11 months
      StudentSkilled5 years 
      Special CategorySkilled7 years, 8 months
      Special CategoryFamily8 years, 2 months
      1. Excludes visa pathways to permanency undertaken by less than 1,000 migrants.
      2. Rounded to the nearest month.

      Country of birth

      There was also considerable variation by country of birth in the transition time from a temporary to a permanent visa. The shortest average time from temporary to permanent visas was experienced by migrants born in South Africa (2 years, 11 months), 80% of whom arrived on a Temporary skilled visa.

      Countries of birth of migrants with the shortest transition times(a)
      Country of birth(b)Average time(c)
      South Africa2 years, 11 months
      Zimbabwe3 years, 2 months
      Australia(d)3 years, 3 months
      Philippines3 years, 3 months
      United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man, nfd3 years, 6 months
      Scotland3 years, 6 months
      Wales3 years, 6 months
      Saudi Arabia3 years, 6 months
      England3 years, 6 months
      Finland3 years, 7 months
      1. Excludes migrants under 15 years.
      2. Excludes countries where less than 1,000 migrants transitioned from a temporary to a permanent visa, and countries where less than 1,000 migrants were born.
      3. Rounded to the nearest month.
      4. Go to Permanent migrants born in Australia for more information.

      The longest transition time was for migrants born in New Zealand (9 years, 4 months). Most (99%) New Zealand-born permanent migrants (16,500 people) held a Subclass 444 Special Category visa (SCV) at some point in their visa history. This is a temporary visa category for New Zealand citizens that has broad eligibility requirements, provides flexibility about length of stay and includes a range of health-related and financial benefits that may reduce the necessity of SCV holders to apply for a permanent visa. This may be a factor as to why New Zealand-born migrants have longer transition times compared to migrants born in other countries.

      For other countries of birth, migrants who had the longest transition time tended to arrive on a Student visa. For example two-thirds (67%) of Hong Kong-born migrants who arrived in Australia on a temporary visa were students. For Thailand-born it was higher at 83%.

      Countries of birth of migrants with the longest transition times(a)
      Country of birth(b)Average time(c)
      New Zealand9 years, 4 months
      Hong Kong (SAR of China)5 years, 11 months
      Thailand5 years, 4 months
      Cambodia5 years, 3 months
      Taiwan5 years, 3 months
      Nepal5 years, 2 months
      Korea, Republic of (South)5 years, 1 month
      Vietnam5 years, 1 month
      Indonesia5 years
      Mauritius5 years
      1. Excludes migrants under 15 years.
      2. Excludes countries where less than 1,000 migrants transitioned from a temporary to a permanent visa, and countries where less than 1,000 migrants were born.
      3. Rounded to the nearest month.
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