Understanding migrant statistics in the Census and other data sources

A description of data sources for information on migrants

Released
28/06/2022

Overview

This page provides an overview of the strengths and key uses of Census and other migrant data sources for finding information on migrants. These sources include the Estimated Resident Population (ERP) by country of birth, surveys and integrated datasets. Particular attention has been made to compare Census with ERP by country of birth given both provide information on Australian migrant populations.

Census

The Census of Population and Housing (Census) is a leading source of information about migrants. It collects a range of information about the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Australian population.

Cultural diversity variables include:

BPLP – Country of birth of person

BPFP – Country of birth of mother

BPMP – Country of birth of father

YARP – Year of arrival in Australia

LANP – Language used at home

ENGLP – Proficiency in spoken English

CITP – Australian citizenship

ANCP – Ancestry multi response

RELP – Religious affiliation

The Census allows for indicators of cultural and language diversity (such as those listed above) to be cross classified with information on:

  • education
  • work (for example, labour force status, occupation, industry of occupation)
  • personal weekly income
  • place of usual residence one and five years ago
  • characteristics of families, households and dwellings.

A strength of the Census is the range of information available for analysis. Given Census collects information on everyone, it is not subject to sample error and allows for information to be produced at small geographic areas and for smaller populations of interest.

Estimated Resident Population (ERP) by Country of birth

The ERP is the official estimate of the Australian population. Uses of the ERP include determining the number of members from each state and territory to sit in the House of Representatives, and the annual allocation of Commonwealth funds for state, territory and local governments.

A strength of the ERP is that it is the most accurate reflection of the population at a point in time. While we make every effort to count each person in Australia only once in the Census, people are missed, which leads to a net undercount.

We estimate the net undercount rate for each country of birth through the Post Enumeration Survey (PES), a large survey we run shortly after the Census. People who usually live in Australia but are out of the country on Census Night are not in scope of the Census.

Both net undercount from the PES and estimates of residents temporarily overseas are included in subsequent estimates of ERP.

ERP is available quarterly based on adjusted Census counts. We calculate forward each quarter by taking the population estimate at the start of the quarter and adding:

  • natural increase (birth minus deaths)
  • net overseas migration
  • net interstate migration (in the case of state or territory populations).

Each quarter we make these calculations for age and sex.

ERP for each country of birth is available annually as at 30 June each year and provides the most accurate and timely statistical picture of the population for each country of birth (and for summary statistics such as the proportion of Australians who were born overseas).

As a result of the adjustments described above, ERP is generally higher than the Census count. For example, the 2021 ERP estimate of the number of people born in India was 710,380, while the number of people born in India according to the unadjusted Census count was 673,352.

A limited number of characteristics of the population by country of birth are available through ERP:

  • age
  • sex
  • state or territory of residence (in Census years only).

For information on other characteristics, such as language used at home, the Census is the best data source.

ERP by Country of birth is currently published in Australia’s Population by Country of Birth.

Summary of differences between the Census and Estimated Resident Population by Country of birth
 CensusEstimated Resident Population by Country of birth
Purpose

Counts the number of people and dwellings in Australia on Census Night. Collects information about people, including their country of birth, language used at home, ancestry and religious affiliation.

The leading source of information for the characteristics of small population groups and areas. Allows for analysis of cultural and language diversity at a highly detailed level.

The official estimate of the Australian population.

The best source for the number of Australian residents born in each country, and their age, sex, and (in Census years only) state or territory of residence.

Frequency

Conducted every five years.

Provides a single snapshot of Australia on Census Night.

Updated annually. Rebased every five years following the Census.

Provides an annual time series of data on the country of birth of Australian residents for all countries since 1996, and for selected countries since 1992. 

Information by state or territory only available in Census years as there is insufficient data on interstate migration by country of birth.

Reference periodCensus Night30 June of each year
MethodologyGenerally, a self-completed online or paper form.Based on Census counts, with adjustments made for vague or missing responses, people missed in the Census and residents temporarily overseas.
ScopePersons usually residing in Australia and present in Australia on Census Night.Persons usually residing in Australia.
Sources of errorNot subject to sampling error as it aims to collect the information from everyone in Australia on Census night. However, the Census is subject to undercount and vague or missing responses.

Vague or missing country of birth responses are redistributed to individual countries. This may introduce a small amount of error.

Adjusts for people missed in the Census by using a sample survey (PES). Can be subject to sampling error. The scale of this error is very small compared to the size of the estimate. 

Inaccuracies in the components used to update ERP (births, deaths, and net overseas migration) will be present in the estimate and will compound over time. However, the error in these components is small.

Other ABS data sources on migrants and migration

Most ABS collections collect information on country of birth and other key indicators of cultural and language diversity. Generally, they have more detailed information on particular topics but due to sample size limitations, do not allow the analysis of small populations or groups at small geographic areas.

For migrant related content from ABS surveys, refer to Migrant Data Matrices.

ABS household surveys

Labour force survey

The monthly labour force survey is designed to measure changes over time in the Australian labour force. It provides a highly accurate estimate of key labour force statistics of the Australian economy, including employment, unemployment and underemployment, as well as a range of more detailed labour market-specific data.

The monthly labour force survey collects country of birth and year of arrival information, allowing labour force characteristics to be explored for people born in particular regions or countries, or for those who arrived in Australia at particular times. As the Labour Force Survey is a sample survey, it is subject to sampling error. The sampling error for individual countries of birth, particularly for individual months, may be high.

Characteristics of Recent Migrants Survey (now ceased)

The ABS conducted the Characteristics of Recent Migrants Survey (CORMS) every three years as a supplement to the monthly labour force survey. It provided data on labour force status and other characteristics of recent migrants and temporary residents, along with general demographic and employment characteristics.

Information available from the survey included:

  • type of visa currently held by recent migrants and temporary entrants
  • type of visa held on arrival in Australia
  • education and employment before and after arriving in Australia
  • difficulties experienced finding work
  • proficiency in English.

The survey was last conducted in 2019 (data published in 2020). It has now ceased because of the wealth of information available in integrated data sources. The 2019 CORMS data is available in Characteristics of recent migrants.

Other household surveys

The ABS routinely collects information on migrants in our Household Survey Program. Regular surveys cover topics such as health, disability, education, income, and wealth.

Integrated data sources

Through data integration, the ABS links the Census with other data sources to provide information on migrants. As they are not based on samples they allow for the analysis of small groups at small geographic areas.

You can access this data via TableBuilder or as Microdata in the DataLab

More details can be found on the Available Microdata and TableBuilder page.

Australian Census Migrants Integrated Dataset

The Australian Census Migrants Integrated Dataset (ACMID) consists of information from permanent migrant settlement records linked to Census data. It provides detailed information on the social and economic characteristics of permanent migrants from the Census by their entry conditions such as visa class, primary or secondary applicant status and whether their visa was granted offshore or onshore.

The ACMID using 2021 Census data is expected to be released in April 2023. More information on the ACMID can be found in Understanding Migrant Outcomes - Insights from the Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Dataset.

Australian Census Temporary Entrants Integrated Dataset

The Australian Census Temporary Entrants Integrated Dataset (ACTEID) consists of information on people granted temporary Australian visas linked to Census data. It provides detailed information on the social and economic characteristics of temporary entrants by characteristics such as visa class, primary or secondary applicant status and whether their visa was granted offshore or onshore.

The ACTEID using 2021 Census data is expected to be released in June 2023. More information on the ACTEID can be found in Insights from the Australian Census and Temporary Entrants Integrated Dataset.

Personal Income Tax Migrants Integrated Dataset

The Personal Income Tax Migrants Integrated Dataset (PITMID) consists of permanent migrant settlement records linked to personal income tax data. The PITMID provides information on the sources of personal income (employee, business, investment and other income) of migrant taxpayers in a given financial year. This information is available by characteristics such as visa class, primary or secondary applicant status and whether their visa was granted offshore or onshore.

More information about the PITMID can be found here Personal Income of Migrants.

Statistics on migration

Information on migration flows, or the number of people migrating to or from Australia, is published quarterly in National, state and territory population.

More detailed information on the characteristics of people migrating to or from Australia (such as their age, sex and visa type) is published annually in Overseas Migration. Other information is available on request.

More information

For further information on population concepts, methods and publications, see Population statistics.