Soaring temporary migrant numbers outstrip Morrison’s 'congestion busting' cut

Population figures contained in last week’s federal budget show the number of temporary migrants is rising much faster than previously forecast.

The government is predicting a surge in temporary migrants that will outstrip the planned cuts to the number of new permanent residents under Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s “congestion-busting” policy.

Despite reducing the annual permanent intake by 30,000, last week’s federal budget showed an increase in overseas students and temporary visa holders will more than make up for that. 


Government forecasts show overseas arrivals will boost the population by 271,700 this year – 40,000 more than projected in last year’s budget, even after taking into account the cuts to permanent migration.

Former senior immigration department official Abul Rizvi said that’s a sizable difference.

“If then you were to look at it through a 10 year lens as the government is proposing we do, that is a very big difference - that’s a difference of 400,000,” Mr Rizvi told SBS News.

Former immigration deputy secretary Abul Rizvi
Former immigration deputy secretary Abul Rizvi Source: SBS

Net migration is considered by demographers to be the most accurate measure of population growth as it counts both permanent migrants and those on temporary visas who have spent 12 out of the previous 16 months in Australia, minus the number of people who have left the country.  

Demographer Liz Allen said the increase in net migration reflected a surge in temporary visa holders, including overseas students, those on bridging visas and temporary skilled workers.

“This confirms concerns that Australia is failing to meet the reciprocal nature of skilled migration - the government appears content in creating a temporary citizenry, taking and not giving back,” Dr Allen told SBS News.  

'Terrible game of limbo'

She said that while failing to reduce congestion, cutting permanent migration would push more people onto bridging visas and into “a terrible game of limbo where migrants are treated as economic assets rather than people.” 

“The anticipated increase in net overseas migration attests to the shadow and mirrors game being played around the recently announced permanent immigration cut - this cut isn’t a real one.” 

After releasing the budget, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg acknowledged the importance of migrants to boosting economic activity, but said health, education and transport services were struggling to cope.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended an apparent delay on final approvals for the Adani coal mine.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg handed down his first budget last week. Source: AAP

"We have grown much faster than was originally forecast, and I think it's fair to say that governments of all persuasions have failed to properly plan for that population change," he said on Wednesday.

"That is now changing."

The government also committed a $100 million infrastructure package over 10 years to address population growth and has funded a new Centre for Population to improve planning. 

While Mr Rizvi agreed the government was being “misleading” by suggesting curbing the migration program would reduce urban congestion, he said the increase in temporary migrants reflected the modern world.

“The world today is much more inter-connected, we move much more rapidly, people will move between countries for jobs. And as a result temporary entry will be a much bigger feature of the world than it was in the 1950s and 60s, it’s just inevitable.”

Mr Rizvi said population growth driven by overseas arrivals was intrinsically linked to economic growth.

“While Sydney and Melbourne are strong successful cities they will keep attracting people.”

As waiting lists blow out for a range of permanent visa applications, Dr Allen argued temporary migrants deserved better.

“The problem is it looks like temporary migrants who contribute socially and economically to the nation are going to get the short end of the deal, whereby we deem migrants as a disposable source of socioeconomic buoyancy and give absolutely nothing back in return.” 

4 min read
Published 9 April 2019 at 3:26pm
By Rosemary Bolger