Employment of temporary migrants in Australia: myths and realities

Employment of temporary migrants in Australia: myths and realities

For several years, the two following statements have been made frequently by journalists, politicians and some academics:

· There are over two million temporary migrants in Australia who have work rights.

· There is nothing more permanent than a temporary migrant.

These statements are then followed by implications that two million ‘temporary migrants’ are taking jobs that could be filled by unemployed Australians because they accept wage levels that are below market rates.

We examine the validity of these statements using the 2016 Census data file on temporary migrants in combination with administrative data on temporary migrants published by the Department of Home Affairs. Temporary entrants cannot sensibly be considered as a single, amorphous group of ‘temporaries’ as is done when these statements are made. Most obviously, among the two million, almost 800,000 are either New Zealand citizens or children under the age of 15. Among the remainder, employment rates and occupations vary considerably across and within the different visa types. We conclude that the number of employed temporary residents at 30 September 2019 was around 660,000. The nature of their employment was such that, to a very high degree, they were not in competition with unemployed Australians. Nevertheless, there are some problem areas.

Peter McDonald is Emeritus Professor in the School of Demography, ANU and Professor of Demography in the University of Melbourne. He is a Chief Investigator of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research. He was a Member of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration for 2012 to 2014 and, in 2014, a Member of the Independent Review of Integrity of the Subclass 457 Programme. In 2017, he was a member of the Independent Assurance Panel for the 2016 Census. In 2015, he was awarded the Irene B. Taeuber Award, the highest award of the Population Association of America. He was President of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) for the years, 2010-13. In 2008, he was awarded an Order of Australia. In December 2018, at the invitation of the Prime Minister, he provided a briefing on population policy to Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

Helen Moyle is a Visitor in the School of Demography, ANU and an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne. She has been a social researcher for most of her career. She has held senior positions in the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Commonwealth Government departments. She has a PhD in Demography from the Australian National University. Her book, Australia;s Fertility Transition, was published by ANU Press in 2020.


Date & time

Tue 04 Aug 2020, 12:30pm to 1:30pm


By Zoom (ID: 915 1095 6787 PW: 659951)


Professor Peter McDonald and Dr Helen Moyle, ANU and University of Melbourne


Susan Cowan


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