Latest release

Perspectives on Migrants

Analysis and presentation of data to inform on issues relating to migrants, cultural diversity and migration

Reference period
2018-19 financial year

No additional information will be added to this publication.

Estimates have been perturbed. Perturbation involves small random adjustments of the statistics and is considered the most effective technique for avoiding the release of identifiable statistics while maximising the range of information that can be released. These adjustments have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern of the statistics. Consequently, discrepancies may occur between sums of the component items and totals.

For ease of readability, the data in the commentary has been rounded. All calculations and analysis are based on un-rounded data. Calculations made on rounded data may differ to those published.

Relevance of education to employment

Achieving a level of financial independence commensurate with skills is a key indicator of a successful settlement outcome for migrants. Closely related to achieving this outcome is educational attainment. Relevant educational qualifications can help provide a migrant with the necessary skills and qualifications to gain employment in their chosen field of work. This article focuses on the relevance of migrants' qualifications to their employment. Two data sources have been used to explore the relationship between migrants' education and their employment. For consistency between data sources the populations of interest are those aged 15 years and over, who are employed and who have attained a non-school qualification. Using country of birth and, where possible, by visa stream, information is provided relating to:

  • relevance of recent non-school qualification to current job
  • main reason field of qualification is not relevant to current job
  • level of highest non-school qualification completed after arrival compared with before arrival
  • field of highest attained qualification and the type of non-school qualification completed.

Data sources

The data sources used in this article are Qualifications and Work 2018-19 (QaW 2018-19) and the Australian Census and Migrant Integrated Dataset 2016 (ACMID 2016).

The scope of QaW 2018-19 differs from ACMID 2016. QaW 2018-19 does not collect visa information but indicates whether a person has been born overseas.  The QaW is a four-yearly survey which captures information on people aged 15 years and over, regarding educational qualifications and the relevance of completed qualifications to their current jobs. Further information regarding scope, coverage and survey concepts can be found at the Qualifications and Work methodology page. For definitions of terms used throughout the article, refer to the Qualifications and Work glossary section.

ACMID 2016 is an integrated dataset which combines Department of Home Affairs permanent migrant settlement records for arrivals between 1 January 2000 and 9 August 2016, with the 2016 Census of Population and Housing. Further information regarding scope, coverage and concepts can be found at the Australian Census and Migrant Integrated Dataset 2016 methodology page. For definitions of terms refer to the Australian Census and Migrant Integrated Dataset 2016 glossary section.

Testing for statistically significant differences

For comparing estimates between populations within a survey it is useful to determine whether apparent differences are 'real' differences between the corresponding population characteristics, or simply the product of differences between the survey samples. One way to examine this is to determine whether the difference between the estimates is statistically significant. All comparisons made in this analysis have been tested and should be considered statistically significant unless otherwise indicated.

Relevance and level of non-school qualifications

Data presented in this section relates to people who are employed and have obtained a non-school qualification. QaW 2018-19 has been used to provide data on:

  • the relevance of recent qualification to current job
  • the reason why it is not relevant
  • whether a person born overseas completed a qualification before or after arriving in Australia.

Relevance of non-school qualification to current job

Overall, in 2018-19, around 8.8 million people aged 15 years and over were employed and had obtained a non-school qualification. Of these, over two thirds (69% or 6.0 million) were working in the same field as their non-school qualification. This proportion was lower for those born overseas (65% or 2.0 million) than for those born in Australia (70% or 4.1 million).

1.1 Relevance of most recent non-school qualification by country of birth
 Born in AustraliaBorn OverseasTotal
 no.%no.%no.%
Working in same field as qualification4,076,28770.41,974,66865.26,048,73768.6
Not working in same field but qualification is relevant702,34112.1380,36212.61,081,86812.3
Not working in same field as qualification and qualification is not at all relevant847,99814.6553,82218.31,402,79615.9
Not working in same field as qualification and relevance is unknown168,3622.9116,9113.9288,5463.3
Total(a)5,792,141100.03,027,702100.08,821,994100.0

a. Includes employed people aged 15 years and over with a non-school qualification.
Source: Qualifications and Work, Australia, 2018-19 (ABS cat. no. 4235.0)

Main reason field of qualification not relevant to current job

When a person reported their main field of study and most recent qualification was not relevant to their current job, they were asked to provide the reason why.  It should be noted that the most recent qualification reported may not necessarily be a person's highest non-school qualification.

  • Australian born were more likely to report that they were no longer interested in their field of qualification or wanting a career change (32% or 266,800 people)
  • For overseas born, a lack of available positions (25% or 137,100 people) was the most reported reason.
1.2 Main reason most recent non-school qualification not relevant to current job by country of birth(a)
 Born in AustraliaBorn OverseasTotal
 no.%no.%no.%
No longer interested in field of qualification / wanted a career change266,82731.5118,46121.4386,03027.5
A lack of positions available153,14918.1137,12324.8291,07320.7
Needed to take a pay cut or accept lesser conditions69,1398.223,0004.292,1536.6
Comfortable in current job109,85913.074,94113.5181,80313.0
Personal reasons (e.g. family, health or age)112,95913.351,0459.2163,88711.7
Qualification not recognised in Australia**1,4590.245,8278.348,4083.5
Skills not current*17,8112.1*12,5752.330,9092.2
Other117,51713.995,60917.3209,00614.9
Total (b)847,998100.0553,822100.01,402,796100.0

a. Qualifications may have been obtained before or after arrival in Australia.
b. Includes employed people aged 15 years and over, not working in the same field as their qualification and their qualification is not at all relevant.
* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
** Estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
Source: Qualifications and Work, Australia, 2018-19 (ABS cat. no. 4235.0)

Level of highest non-school qualification completed before and after arrival

Approximately 3.0 million overseas born people aged 15 years and over were employed and had attained a non-school qualification. Of these, 14% (434,000) attained an additional non-school qualification after arrival, with:

  • Nearly half (46% or 201,300) gaining a higher level qualification after arrival
  • Over a third (34% or 146,600) obtaining a lower level qualification after arrival
  • 14% (58,500) attaining an additional qualification at the same level as before arrival.
1.3 Level of highest qualification completed after arrival compared with before arrival (a) by age group
 15–34 years35–44 years45 years and overTotal
 no.%no.%no.%no.%
Lower level 32,42027.560,50138.558,14437.0146,56433.8
Same level *18,07515.317,46011.127,07117.258,53313.5
Higher level63,79054.075,27547.963,63640.5201,26646.4
Total(a)(b)118,076100.0157,170100.0157,187100.0434,051100.0

a. Includes employed people born overseas aged 15 years and over who had a non-school qualification before arrival in Australia and completed a non-school qualification after arrival.
b. Includes Level not determined.
* Estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
Source: Qualifications and Work, Australia, 2018-19 (ABS cat. no. 4235.0)

Employment and non-school qualifications by visa stream

Data presented in this section is sourced from the integrated dataset, ACMID 2016.  Analysis relates to permanent migrants with a date of arrival between 1 January 2000 and 9 August 2016, aged 15 years and over and employed at the time of the 2016 Census. While ACMID does not capture the same level of detail about qualifications and relevance to current job as QaW 2018-19, it is a robust dataset that allows analysis by permanent visa stream. Visa stream is of interest given they vary in eligibility requirements and there are significant differences in educational attainment between the streams. For example, applicants in the skill stream are specifically selected because they have skills and qualifications to fill gaps in the labour market. This means they are more likely to hold a non-school qualification and have higher levels of educational attainment.

ACMID 2016:

  • allows for analysis by permanent visa streams (family, skilled and humanitarian) and occupation at the time of the 2016 Census
  • provides information on the field of education studied and level of non-school qualification a permanent migrant held at the time of the 2016 Census.

Employed permanent migrants by occupation

In 2016 there were 1.3 million employed permanent migrants aged 15 years and over who arrived between 2000 and 2016. 

  • Consistent with their visa eligibility criteria, employed skilled migrants aged 15 years and over were most commonly working in professional occupations (35%). Similar proportions of skilled migrants were employed in managerial roles and as technicians and trades workers (each 13%).
  • Employed family migrants were most commonly working in professional occupations (19%). A further 16% of family migrants were working as community and personal service workers.
  • Humanitarian migrants were most commonly employed as labourers (23%) and community and personal service workers (19%).

For further information about employed migrants and occupations, please refer to Understanding migrant outcomes - Insights from the Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Dataset, Australia

    a. Migrants whose arrival date pertaining to their permanent visa was between 1 January 2000 and 9 August 2016 (Census night).
    b. Aged 15 years and over.
    Source: 2016 Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Dataset

    In 2016, of the 1.3 million employed permanent migrants aged 15 years and over, three out of four people (78% or 1,005,348) held a non-school qualification. 

    Skilled migrants were the most likely to hold a non-school qualification (84%). Family migrants were less likely to hold a non-school qualification (69%) than skilled migrants and humanitarian migrants were even less likely to hold a non-school qualification (52%), which is consistent with the eligibility criteria for this group (i.e. entry to Australia is granted on humanitarian grounds).

    The most commonly held non-school qualifications by employed permanent migrants aged 15 years and over at the time of the 2016 Census were:

    • Bachelor degrees (40% or 405,100 people)
    • Postgraduate degrees (24% or 236,100 people)
    • Certificates (16% or 161,300 people).

    a. Migrants whose arrival date pertaining to their permanent visa was between 1 January 2000 and 9 August 2016 (Census night).
    b. Aged 15 years and over.
    c. Proportions calculated from the total number of employed permanent migrants with a non-school qualification (1,005,348 people).
    Source: 2016 Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Dataset

    Employed permanent skilled migrants

    Of the 1.0 million employed permanent migrants aged 15 years and over who held a non-school qualification at the time of 2016 Census, 71% (or 712,100) were skilled migrants. 

    Employed permanent skilled migrants were most likely to hold bachelor degrees (35% or 293,800 people).

    The top three fields of study were: 

    • Management and Commerce (27% or 78,300 people)
    • Health (19% or 55,700 people)
    • Engineering and Related Technology (17% or 49,400 people).

    a. Migrants whose arrival date pertaining to their permanent visa was between 1 January 2000 and 9 August 2016 (Census night).
    b. Aged 15 years and over.
    c. Proportions calculated from the total number of employed permanent skilled migrants with a non-school bachelor degree qualification (293,786 people).
    Source: Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Datasets 2016 (ABS cat. no. 3417.0)

    Employed permanent family migrants

    Of the 1.0 million employed permanent migrants aged 15 years and over who held a non-school qualification at the time of 2016 Census, 26% (or 256,200) were family migrants. 

    Employed permanent family migrants were most likely to hold bachelor degrees (28% or 102,100 people).

    The top three fields of study were: 

    • Management and Commerce (28% or 29,000 people)
    • Society and Culture (16% or 16,800 people)
    • Health (14% or 13,900 people).

    a. Migrants whose arrival date pertaining to their permanent visa was between 1 January 2000 and 9 August 2016 (Census night).
    b. Aged 15 years and over.
    c. Proportions calculated from the total number of employed permanent family migrants with a non-school bachelor degree qualification (102,101 people).
    Source: Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Datasets 2016 (ABS cat. no. 3417.0)

    Employed permanent humanitarian migrants

    Of the 1.0 million employed permanent migrants aged 15 years and over who held a non-school qualification at the time of 2016 Census, 4% (or 36,600) were humanitarian migrants.

    Employed permanent humanitarian migrants were most likely to have certificate level education (22% or 15,300 people).

    The top three fields of study were: 

    • Society and Culture (34% or 5,200 people)
    • Engineering and Related Technology (16% or 2,500 people)
    • Architecture and Building (13% or 1,900 people).

    a. Migrants whose arrival date pertaining to their permanent visa was between 1 January 2000 and 9 August 2016 (Census night).
    b. Aged 15 years and over.
    c. Proportions calculated from the total number of employed permanent humanitarian migrants with a non-school certificate level qualification (15,292 people).
    Source: Australian Census and Migrants Integrated Datasets 2016 (ABS cat. no. 3417.0)

    Data downloads

    Relevance of education to employment

    Previous catalogue number

    This release previously used catalogue number 3416.0

    Post release changes

    10/02/2022 - following the release on 31/01/2022, a correction was made to Table 1.1 regarding proportion born in Australia not working in same field as qualification and relevance is unknown. Links were corrected in relevance of education to employment data download with no change to data. 

    21/02/2022 - no additional information will be added to this publication.