Census 2016: Overseas migrants vital to prosperity
PART 3: MIGRATION
There are around 550 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Australia and we’ve examined changes in their settlement patterns from 2011 to 2016. Key findings include:
- Regional Australia’s population growth rate is lower than capital cities largely because it attracts a much smaller share of international migrants;
- International migration should be the first choice for dwindling regions, not the last; and
- 151 regional LGAs helped offset local population decline by attracting international migrants.
Ever since the influx of immigrants following World War Two, the settlement of international migrants has been overwhelmingly focused on large metropolitan centres. This pattern of increasing urbanisation of the overseas-born has been particularly marked for recently arrived immigrants. The same goes for those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Aside from an increased likelihood of ‘finding compatriots’, metropolitan areas are also perceived to offer better access to employment as well as education and health services. As such, they have generally been considered the most ‘appealing’ settlement locations for new arrivals, many of whom may have limited knowledge of Australia beyond the bright lights of Sydney and Melbourne.
Only in the mid-1990s did the location of migrant settlement become part of the national agenda. This followed the establishment of a federal government department of regional development and various programs to facilitate it.
A concerted effort to help reduce the high concentration of international migrants in metropolitan areas and actively promote the livelihood of regional Australian communities came in 2004. This was when the Australian Government announced that it would deliberately increase the settlement of refugees throughout regional areas of the country. Regional settlement has since been encouraged across levels of government as a ‘win-win scenario’ for new arrivals and host communities alike.
In the past decade, there has been a particular focus on secondary migration to regional areas. That is, of relocating international arrivals from metropolitan areas to regional ones. This has been propelled by community partnerships with local businesses and local government initiatives.
While there are challenges in attracting and retaining migrants in regional areas, international migrants are a vital asset for building local economies and community. They can fill skill shortages and gaps in regional areas including essential positions such as doctors and nurses. The majority settling in regional Australia are skilled migrants. This is reflective of Australia’s migration program and its emphasis on attracting skilled workers.
International migrants are also important contributors to the unskilled workforce, often filling positions that domestic workers are unwilling to do. Abattoirs and poultry plants are important businesses in regional Australia and many would be unable to operate without them.
The 2016 Census has provided a refreshed view of the impact of international migration on regional economies. By examining changes in the number of people living in regions that are born in Australia or overseas, we can clearly see the contribution international migrants are making. While this data does not yet identify their year of arrival, it does show that people who are born overseas and move to Australia are vital to regional Australia’s prosperity.
For many small towns, international migrants have been their only source of population growth. Looking at the balance of Australian and overseas born residents in the 2016 Census data in Table 1, we can see:
- 175 regional LGAs increased their population, while 246 did not;
- 151 increased their overseas-born and decreased their Australian-born population;
- 20 increased Australian-born and decreased their overseas-born population;
- 128 increased both Australian-born and overseas-born population; and
- 116 decreased both Australian-born and overseas-born population.
CASE STUDY: DARWIN
At the 2011 Census, Darwin had 45,442 people recorded as born in Australia and 19,455 born elsewhere. By 2016 the number of Australian-born locals had reduced 44,953 and the number of overseas-born had increased to 24,961. Without this increase in overseas-born people, the Darwin population would have decreased.
For more information on the important role migration plays building regional Australia’s prosperity, read the RAI’s work tiled The Missing Migrants.