Are we on track for net migration of 400,000 in 2022-23?

May 19, 2023
Airplane and Melbourn airport with airplane take off in background, Australia, this photo can use for travel, business, transportation, airline, flight and holiday concept

In the May 2023 Budget, Treasury caused a ‘big Australia’ furore by increasing its net migration forecast for 2022-23 from the 235,000 it published in the October 2022 Budget to 400,000.

Net migration is the number of people, irrespective of citizenship or visa status, who arrive in Australia after being outside the country for more than 12 months out of 16 and then remain in Australia for at least that length of time minus people who have been in Australia long-term and depart for at least 12 months out of 16.

I had written in November 2022, and again in January 2023, that Treasury’s 235,000 forecast was too low. But on my calculations, its 400,000 forecast appeared too high based on international movement data to end March 2023.

With the release of international movements data for April 2023, we can update our understanding of net migration trends in 2022-23.

With the April 2023 movements data, the ABS has also published data on permanent and long-term movements to end March 2023. This is a very preliminary estimate of net migration because many people who may indicate an intention to be moving on a permanent or long-term basis can change their mind.

For the nine months to end March 2023, net permanent and long-term movements were 263,350. If net permanent and long-term movements for the remainder of the current financial year proceeds at the same rate as the first nine months, we would get a net permanent and long-term movement outcome of around 350,000. To get to 400,000, a very large number of short-term entrants would need to extend stay in 2022-23.

Net Movements

Table 1 compares net movements in the nine months to end March with net movements in the ten months to end April 2023.

Table 1: International Movements in 2022-23 to March 2023 and April 2023

Net movements to end April 2023 declined to 683,210 from 738,070 at end March 2023.

For this net movement to contribute to net migration, however, arrivals must have been out of Australia for at least 12 months out of 16 months and then stay in Australia for at least that period. For departures to be counted towards net migration they must have been in Australia for at least that length of time and then also be away for at least that length of time.

Net movement of permanent migrants, students, skilled temporary entrants, temporary work (mainly working holiday makers), temporary other and NZ citizens all increased marginally. But these were more than offset by a decline in net movements of Australian citizens and visitors.

Net movement of Australian citizens in April 2023 was negative 55,150. This followed a negative 42,650 in March 2023. This outflow will be a mixture of Australian citizens leaving Australia for a short holiday but there will also be Australians leaving for longer-term jobs overseas. It should be noted that during covid, a significant number of Australians returned home after being overseas for the long-term. Some of these Australian citizens will be returning to jobs overseas.

Net movement of visitors was negative 17,760 in April 2023 leading to a fall in net positive movement of visitors for the ten months to April 2023 to 190,090. While there is substantial uncertainty as to what portion of this visitor movement will contribute to net migration, if a large portion does not contribute to net migration, the Treasury forecast of 400,000 will not be delivered.

Treasury has not yet published how it calculated its forecast of net migration in 2022-23 of 400,000. Without access to that, it is difficult to know where it may have gone wrong.

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