Migration to Australia Driven by Returning Aussies, Departing Yanks and Fewer Poms

Net overseas migration - the changing face of Australia

There have been many articles published recently concerning high Net Overseas Migration to Australia.

This article looks at recent ABS data on Net Overseas Migration and discusses the changing mix of settlement in Australia by nationality.

Overall Trend

Net overseas migration was 267,000 in 2018-19. After historic highs of close to 300,000 in 2008-09, numbers dropped to 105,000 in 2009-10. Since then, there has been an overall increasing trend.

Net Overseas Migration 2008-2019

Trends by Country

The below interactive chart allows you to view the trend for each country for each financial year.

Select Country:

The following data can be viewed:

  • Settler Arrivals: Migrants arriving in Australia on a permanent basis from overseas
  • Residents: People reporting a residential address in Australia. Net numbers of people arriving or departing on a short-term basis are displayed, as are those arriving/departing on a long-term basis
  • Visitors: People not living in Australia. Net short-term and net long-term trend lines are visible
  • Total: Net flow of people of each citizenship to Australia each year

Overall Contribution by Country

In the past 11 years, the net increase in Australia’s population due to migration was 2.28 million. Of this increase, approximately 500,000 people came from India, 348,000 from China, 246,000 from the Philippines, 185,000 from New Zealand, 159,000 from the UK and 103,000 from Nepal. The chart below lists the top 20 countries over this period – numbers in the charts below are all in thousands of people:

top 20 NOM Countries 2008-2019

The main outflows were Australians (390,000) and US citizens (27,500) and Japanese (1,600). Whilst it’s not unusual for Australians to spend time overseas, it is surprising that so many US citizens have departed Australia – most of this has occurred since the 2015-16 financial year. This has been driven by a large increase in short-term resident departures, suggesting that this may be due to sponsored employees departing Australia.

Biggest Increases in Flows

The chart below lists the top 10 countries by the increase in NOM in 2018-19 versus 2008-09. That is, the countries where the flow of people to Australia has increased the most:
top 10 countries by increase in NOM flow

28,000 more Australians returned home than departed in 2018-19 – this is very much against the usual trend. On average, 35,000 more Australians departed Australia than returned over the 11 year period. This was due to short-term trips so is unlikely to be indicative of a significant trend. It could for instance be a timing issue due to a temporary slowing of growth in the number Australians travelling for tourism. The number of short-term departures of this nature grew from 5.1 million in 2008-09 to 9.5 million in 2018-19.

Apart from Australians, Nepal had the highest growth in annual flows in the last 11 years – more than doubling from from 11,000 per year to 24,000. This is likely due to increased numbers of students from Nepal.

India had the next highest growth, albeit from a much higher base of 64,000 to 76,000. This was likely driven by both increases in student numbers and employer sponsored visa numbers.

Philippines increased annual flows from 18,000 to almost 30,000. In this case, the increase appears to be due to increased number of short-term arrivals not being balanced by short-term departures. This suggests that Philippines are increasingly arriving on visitor visas and applying onshore for further stay in Australia.

Biggest Decreases in Flows

On the other hand, there were large decreases in the inflows for certain countries. The chart below looks at the countries where the flow has decreased significantly between 2008-09 and 2018-19:

top 10 countries by decrease in NOM flow

The most striking decrease has been arrivals from the UK – historically the main source of migrants to Australia. Net arrivals from the UK went from 28,000 in 2008-09 to under 1,700 in 2018-19. In this case, the decrease is due to a stunning reduction in Settler Arrivals from the UK – 21,500 in 2008-09 decreasing to a mere 4,113 in 2018-19. This is most likely due to the tightening of the requirements for General Skilled and Employer Sponsored Migration over this period.

The number of New Zealanders settling in Australia has also slowed to a trickle – net arrivals decreasing from 27,000 in 2008-09 to 4,000 in 2018-19. This is most likely due to relative economic conditions in Australia vs NZ.

Apart from the UK and NZ, there have been large reductions in flows from Korea, South Africa, Malaysia, Ireland, France, Taiwan and Thailand.

Somewhat concerning is a reduction in net flows from China – from a high of 46,500 in 2016-17 (mostly driven by international education), flows from China had reduced by 40% to less than 28,000 in 2018-19. This suggests that Chinese nationals may be seeking other international education options.


Many recent articles have noted the increase in Net Overseas Migration, and it is true that NOM is currently at a high level. This is masked somewhat by a large contribution by Australian citizens returning home.

However, more detailed analysis shows some interesting trends – for instance the number of people settling from the UK have decreased sharply and is unlikely to increase without changes to visa requirements. US nationals have also been departing Australia in large numbers since the 2015-16 financial year, and the flow of New Zealanders has slowed considerably.

Source countries for settlement are increasingly South and East Asia – with India, China, Nepal, and the Philippines contributing significant numbers.

A decrease in flows from China may indicate that a slowdown in international education may be in the wings.


data.gov.au – Overseas Arrivals and Departures