Migrant surge at record levels

THE push to lure skilled workers to Australia and the increase in foreign students have raised migration into the country to a record high.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal that net overseas migration to Australia boosted the population by almost 200,000 in the year to March, outstripping births in contributing to population growth.

And with the Federal Government adding to the migration intake in this year’s budget, demographers predict the numbers will swell.

The population of Australia reached 21.3 million at the end of March, and 59% of that growth was due to net overseas migration – that is, the difference between overseas arrivals and departures.

Peter McDonald, head of demographics at the Australian National University, said much of the rise was due to long-term temporary migration. This mainly comprises foreign students, temporary skilled workers who are here on 457 visas, and people on working holidays.

Monash University demographer Bob Birrell said migration was contributing more to population growth than births, and the trend was yet to peak.

“There’s also a significant delay in the return of those temporary migrants,” he said. “We’re getting a surge of people coming here, but it takes some time before they finish their stay and return home.”

Dr Birrell said the increasing population was adding pressure to the housing market, which was already under strain because of a reduction in the construction of units and houses. It was also increasing demand for hospital services and public transport and adding cars on roads.

A spokesman for Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans said the figures reflected the migration program levels set by the previous government.

He said this also reflected the strong growth in the number of foreign students and temporary skilled migrant workers coming to Australia. In 2007-08, more than 278,000 student visas and 110,570 457 visas were granted. Acting state Treasurer Tim Holding said Victoria had recorded its highest population growth in 37 years. This year’s budget included $4.4 billion in new infrastructure investment, including for hospitals, schools and roads.

Carol Nader and Jason Dowling  | September 25, 2008 | The Age


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