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Using the Census to make sense of temporary migration

This post is part of the On the Move blog series, which brings you posts focussing on the use of census data in a temporary migration context. These posts have been prepared by our Economic Analysis Unit. 

If you’ve been following these blogs for a while you will know that the 2011 Census of Population and Housing offers up a couple of incredibly useful products for Immigration’s policymakers.

The most well-known of these are the 21 million records of data released from the Census,  which capture the details of everyone present in Australia on Census night. Included among these millions are:  all people born here; all migrants with a permanent visa; and because it’s a population count, all those with a temporary visa, provided they have been (or intend to be) in Australia for at least a year.

The second product is the Australian Census Migrant Integrated Dataset (or ACMID for short).  Again it is based on data from the Census, but this time it has been matched with the immigration records of just over a million permanent migrants who settled in Australia after 2001.  For people working in this department, this is especially useful.  On its own, the Census does not make any distinction between permanent settlers and temporary migrants, whereas the ACMID enables us to drill-down into various categories of permanent entry.

While these datasets are both useful in their own right, what is especially enlightening are the additional insights gained if you look at the ‘differences’ between them.

Just to recap, the Census is a source of statistics on Aussies, permanents and temporaries. The ACMID is only permanents.  Take one away from the other and you get statistics on Aussies and temporaries.  Take out the fifteen million or so who were born here, and you get a much smaller set of data, one that only contains statistics on temporary migrants.

If we then take this chunk of temporary data, and apply some reasonable assumptions and straightforward logic, we can get decent proxies for some of the main groups of temporary entrants.  These comprise Working Holiday Makers, International Students and New Zealanders on subclass 444 visas.  This latter, lesser-known group comprises New Zealand citizens who, because they first entered Australia after 2001, have limited prospects of obtaining permanent residence or Australian citizenship, and by extension are ineligible for many government benefits in the areas of health, education and welfare.

Table 1 : Identifying Temporary Migrant Groups

Temporary Migrant Group Identified as …
International Students In full-time study,  born overseas and aged 18 or over
New Zealand Citizens Born in New Zealand or the Pacific Islands and  arrived after 2001 and not in full-time study
Working Holiday Makers Aged 18 to 30,  born in a country we have a working holiday arrangement with and not in full-time study
Children of a subclass 457 migrant Born overseas (anywhere other than New Zealand and Pacific Islands) and aged less than 18
Other Temporaries Those who do not match any of the above criteria.  It will include subclass 457 migrants and their spouses and those on skilled graduate visas

 This then leaves us with a residual group mostly made up  of subclass 457 holders, plus an assortment of others on skilled graduate visas and student guardian visas for example.  There are also a handful of people who don’t quite fit the mould.  Included among these outliers would be international students under 18, New Zealand citizens who were born outside of New Zealand and the Pacific, and Working Holiday Makers who had just gone over the age of 30 at the time of the Census.

All of which is a longhand way of saying this is not an exact science. Shortcomings aside though, it’s a useful addition to the other temporary migration statistics collected by the department; and because it is underpinned by some very detailed Census information, it has the potential for new insights into the behaviour of temporary migrants.

For instance, by using the address information provided in the Census, Figures 1a to 1d show where, within the greater Sydney metropolitan area, different groups of temporary migrants are living.

 Figure 1 – Distribution of temporary  migrants around Sydney metro area

OTM Graph                  

As we can see, Sydney’s international students tend to congregate along an east-west axis – an axis that incorporates Sydney’s main campuses and major transport corridors.  This axis does extend a long way west however – reaching all the way to the foot of the Blue Mountains.  This results in some long commutes for international students, who may be living in the far west to take advantage of cheaper accommodation.

In contrast, the Working Holiday Makers are a more geographically concentrated group.  So when in Sydney, they’ll favour the vibrant lifestyle of the inner city or laid back atmosphere of a beachside locale.  They are also a much smaller group than the international students, as only a small number of them stay in Australia for more than 12 months.

New Zealanders with a temporary status are more far flung, with significant numbers living on the periphery of Sydney, near Penrith in the North and Campbelltown in the South.  Economically and socially these are some of the more disadvantaged parts of the Sydney region.  Furthermore, given the increasing size of this cohort and their limited access to government services, this may be an issue of growing concern.

The final word

More generally, understanding more about temporary migrants and where they live is important because they are a growing segment of the population and like the rest of us they leave a footprint economically, socially and environmentally. At the same time, and as we have seen already, their geographic distribution does vary. This means that the pressures they place on local housing, on infrastructure and on the provision of services is also unevenly felt.  Because this issue is becoming increasingly important, more work is being done in this area with other government agencies.