What happened to net migration in January 2024

Mar 7, 2024
Woman looks at the scoreboard at the airport. Select a country Australia for travel or migration.

With the Opposition Spokesperson for Immigration, Dan Tehan, making it clear immigration levels will be a key battleground for the 2025 Election, the Government will be keen to see net migration trending down faster. While net migration past its peak in around September 2023, it is still not falling sharply. That is despite major tightening of student visa policy, including very high refusal rates and slower processing.

The total number of temporary residents in Australia fell in January 2024 by over 120,000 to 2.637 million. However, the decline was driven entirely by the departure of short-term visitors with the number of visitors in Australia falling by over 200,000. This was partly offset by an increase in almost all other groups which are largely longer-term visas (and thus more likely to contribute to net migration):

Bridging Visa (BV) holders again increased by over 7,000 to 218,889. While well short of the record of 373,109 BV holders in March 2022 (a high level of BV holders is a clear indication of an immigration system in trouble), the ongoing increase in BV holders will be worrying the Government as that is indicative of people extending stay, often beyond 12 months and thus adding to net migration, as well as an inability of visa processing staff to cope with a rise in onshore visa applications. It is highly likely a substantial portion of the BV backlog will be onshore student and temporary graduate applications awaiting a decision.

NZ citizens increased by over 8,000 to 709,924. The ongoing strong numbers of NZ citizens in Australia is despite creation of the pathway to Australian citizenship for long-term NZ citizens. This may reflect relative weakness in the NZ labour market as more NZ citizens arrive than secure Australian citizenship or leave Australia.

Students increased by 24,000 to 571,269. This is despite the major increase in student visa refusals and slow-down in granting of student visas. This will also be worrying the Government in terms of its forecast reduction in net migration. It is likely the Government will tighten student visa policy further as the high refusal rate policy is unsustainable.

Working holiday makers (including Work and Holiday visas) increased by over 7,000 to 177,673. This is another group that makes a substantial contribution to net migration. Policy in this space remains highly facilitative, including the recently announced MATES visa from India which may start in the next 12-24 months.

Other temporary employment visa holders increased by over 5,000 to 182,455. This group includes covid visa holders which remained relatively stable in January 2024 after falling sharply at the end of 2023. The Government is relying heavily on a large portion of covid visa holders departing Australia in 2023-24.

Temporary skilled visa holders increased by over 21,000 to 151,278. Some of these would be people returning to Australia after a short overseas trip. There may also be some increase associated with aged care workers through the aged care labour agreement as well as registered nurses.

Temporary graduates increased by over 8,000 to 188,130. Some of these would be students completing their courses and accessing post-study work rights while others would be returning to Australia after a short overseas trip. This trend will slow the increase in long-term departures the Government is relying on to get net migration down.

Student visas in January 2024

At 41,101, offshore student visa applications were slightly below the previous January record of 41,313. Compared to December 2023, offshore applications remained strong for China (9,609), India (9,574), Nepal (2,667), Pakistan (1,563), Sri Lanka (1,866) and Bangladesh (1,712). There was comparative weakness from Vietnam (1,588), Philippines (1,348), Brazil (732), Colombia (745) and Bhutan (700).

Offshore student visa grants were 32,003 compared to 38,016 in January 2023 and 22,643 in December 2023. Offshore grant rate in January 2024 was 83.8 percent compared to 82.7 percent in December 2023 and 90 percent in January 2023.

The January offshore grant rate for China was 97.7 percent compared to India at 82.1 percent and Nepal at 64.4 percent.

January 2024 onshore applications lodged were 14,237 but only 6,065 were granted. The January 2024 onshore grant rate was 88.6 percent compared to 97.7 percent in January 2023. Like in December 2023, a large portion of onshore applications were unprocessed leading to growth in the BV backlog. This is likely being driven by the Government’s expectation of increased scrutiny and a higher refusal rate for onshore student applications.


While the Government is working hard to reduce net migration, this is falling only very gradually. The further tightening of student visa policy the Government has announced to date is likely to be insufficient to get net migration down to the long-term forecast of 235,000 per annum.

It is notable that in January 2024, over 400,000 Australian citizens returned to Australia. While most of those would be people returning after taking short-term trips overseas, some will be longer-term expatriates returning thus potentially adding to net migration.

A further issue for the Government is the steadily rising trend in working holiday makers where policy remains highly facilitative, the extent to which visitors are extending stay and finally the growing BV backlog. A weaker labour market may help reduce net migration faster but that has its own problems.

After 20 months of visa reform to fix the mess the Albanese Government inherited, much remains to be done to properly fix the visa system.

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