Politics Analysis

Population and immigration in 2022: What we know so far

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Immigration Minister Andrew Giles (image via YouTube)

With international borders re-opening at the end of 2021, the biggest labour shortage since World War II and a new government accelerating visa processing, 2022 will prove a unique year for immigration.

So what do we know of this to the end of November 2022?

Population growth and net overseas migration

For 2021-22 population growth was 1.13%, up from 0.13% in 2020-21. The natural increase fell to 124,400 due to a slight increase in births and a much larger increase in deaths, part of a long-term trend as Australia’s population ages significantly further.

Net overseas migration was 170,900, up 255,800 on the negative outcome of the previous year.

The higher net overseas migration in 2021-22 was significantly driven by the return of overseas students which represented an unprecedented 63.4% of net overseas migration. Relatively little of the 2021-22 net overseas migration was permanent migrants (25.7%) as a large portion of the 2021-22 migration program, which was itself delivered well below the "ceiling" of 160,000, was to onshore applicants which has no impact on net overseas migration.

But note the net overseas migration estimate is a preliminary figure and subject to revision, especially if a large portion of the net excess visitor arrivals in the first six months of 2022 (around 184,000) change status to extend stay for more than 12 months.

Net movements to November 2022

The size and pattern of net movements (the number of arrivals minus departures by various categories) provide the earliest indication of net overseas migration which measures the excess of long-term and permanent arrivals who remain in Australia for 12 out of 16 months less long-term and permanent departures.

The net movements for 11 months to the end of November 2022 were a positive 402,200. This is likely to reduce significantly in December as there is traditionally a large net outflow in that month, particularly students. The big unknown is what portion of this will convert to net overseas migration.

The net movement of students to the end of November 2022 was 211,730. This is likely to fall in December when students complete the academic year and many return home. Nevertheless, it is highly likely students will again be a major contributor to net overseas migration in 2022.

In the decade before the pandemic, students were contributing around 40% of net overseas migration. Demand for offshore student visas from June 2022 has been at record levels even though offshore student visa refusal rates have also been very high. This is likely to continue until unlimited work rights for students are abolished in July 2023 and student work rights are again restricted.

The net movement of skilled temporary entrants to November 2022 has increased to 30,560. Given the extent of skill shortages during 2022, this is surprisingly low and reflects the slow and bureaucratic nature of these visas since the Dutton changes of 2017-18. This may change with additional resources for visa processing and following the Parkinson review of the migration system.

One of the most surprising aspects of net movements to November for 2022 is visitors which was positive 340,800. There has been no year on record where the net positive movement of visitors has been this high. Note this is before the December data, a month when visitor movements are traditionally a very large positive.

The next largest net positive movement of visitors I can find is 153,070 in 2018 and 140,330 in 2019. These were years when visitors changing status and extending their stay in Australia made a very large contribution to net overseas migration, particularly older migrants such as parents. Should we expect another substantial contribution from visitors to net overseas migration in 2022?

In terms of permanent migrants, the net movement of skilled migrants to the end of November was only positive 19,880 suggesting the larger skill stream in 2022-23 has not yet converted to a higher level of arrivals. This may start in the first quarter of 2023.

Surprisingly, the net movement of permanent family migrants to the end of November was negative 50,080. Part of this would be family migrants visiting home after being prevented from doing so during the pandemic. But some may be returning if dissatisfied with life in Australia.

The net movement of humanitarian and other migrants such as those on resident return visas to the end of November was a positive 5,270. This may rise in 2023 as offshore humanitarian visas are processed more quickly, including the special Afghanistan intake.

Finally, the most surprising element is a very large negative net movement of Australian citizens at negative 190,860. Part of this would be Australians taking a holiday after being prevented from doing so during the pandemic. But the fact this large negative net movement has persisted over 11 months suggests a substantial portion are moving overseas for employment-related purposes. This will reduce net overseas migration in 2022.

The key message from all this is that 2022 will prove to be a year full of surprises in terms of net overseas migration.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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