News National Why so many people are leaving Australia

Why so many people are leaving Australia

More than 84,000 people left Australia in 2017, compared with almost 76,000 in 2016. Photo: Getty
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People are leaving Australia in record numbers, according to latest figures.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed there were almost 9000 more people leaving Australia from October to December 2017 than in the same period in 2016.

Overwhelming numbers of international students want to leave after study, many foreign backpackers can’t afford to stay for long and lots of 457 visa holders are being forced out by toughened migration laws.

Over the last five years, Australian citizens have comprised about 30 per cent of total departures, an ABS spokesperson has confirmed.

Foreign backpackers, 457 visa holders and overseas students account for almost one half of leaving residents (people who have stayed in Australia for 12 of the past 16 months).

While it may be too early to tell what exactly has contributed to the sharp increase in departures within the 2016-17 time period, The New Daily spoke with three experts to understand why there has been such a spike in departures.

International students

There has been a recent increase in international students departing Australia, an ABS spokesperson stated.

Arjun Madathil, from the Council of International Students Australia, said most overseas students prefer to leave Australia after graduating.

There is great misconception among Australians that international students want to stay in the country after completing their studies, when in fact “huge numbers” want to leave, Mr Madathil said.

“It is hard for any international student to first of all leave their home country, their culture and then come to an unknown land.

“But they do so because they want the quality of education that Australian universities provide,” Mr Madathil said.

Some international students sponsored by foreign governments are obligated to return to their home country, he said.

Others prefer work back home, and many  tend to be “global citizens”, Mr Madathil explained, meaning they want to travel around the world or go elsewhere to study.

Overseas students are often forced to leave Australia because they no longer qualify for a direct application for a permanent residency visa (187), as they must have at least three years of work experience in their chosen occupation before they can apply.

Australian citizens

According to an ABS spokesperson, there has been an increase in Australian citizens leaving, but only by about 8 per cent (or just under 2000) in October to December 2017, when compared with the same period in 2016.

The number of citizens leaving annually has ranged from 80,000 to 100,000 over the last 10 years.

The number of Australian citizens returning home over that same period has ranged between 72,000 to 81,000 each year.

“We generally would expect the departures to increase as the population grows and as the proportion of the overseas-born population grows,” said Professor James Raymer, from the School of Demography at the Australian National University.

“So there’s certainly no need for panic.”

Foreign backpackers

Working holidaymakers are “very mobile” and “choice-conscious”, migration lawyer Mark Lyden said.

The government’s “fiddling” with the working holiday visa fee has been heavily criticised by peak farming bodies because overseas backpackers are the primary source of labour for many farmers, he said.

Work has dried up in north-west NSW for many backpackers who are employed in the meat industry, Mr Lyden said.

The majority of backpackers travel to Australia to “make as much money as they can before they go home”.

“If they cant make it here, they’ll probably go to any other country where they can get a working holiday visa at a reasonable cost,” Mr Lyden said.


There’s a substantial change and a reduction in the number of people who apply for permanent residency through the temporary Skill Shortage visa (formerly the 457 visa).

In April 2017, the number of occupations that migrants could use to apply for permanent residency was significantly reduced.

Sixteen jobs were removed from the Medium and Long term Strategic Skills List and 200 jobs were removed from the Short-term Skilled Occupation List.

Migration lawyer Mr Lyden said residents on bridging visas who applied for a visa in one of the removed occupations, were inevitably going to be refused, so they’ve withdrawn their application and may well have departed the country.

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