Posted on March 30, 2016

Overseas-Born Australians Reach Highest Level Since 1895

Inga Ting, Sydney Morning Herald, March 30, 2016

The proportion of Australian residents born overseas has soared to its highest level in more than 120 years, new figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.

In 2015, more than 28 per cent of the population were born overseas, the largest proportion since 1895, according to the research released on Wednesday. The percentage has increased every year for the past 15 years.

Nepalese-born Australians were the fastest-growing overseas-born community. Their numbers have swelled more than 11-fold over the past 10 years, from just over 3800 people in 2005 to more than 43,500 in 2015.

Although their population is small compared to other overseas-born groups, the rate of increase–nearly 28 percent a year, on average–is well above other groups. For example, the next fastest growing groups–those born in Pakistan,  Brazil and India–increased their numbers by around three-fold over the same period.

The steepest decline among the top 50 countries of birth was for Serbian-born Australians, followed by those born in Poland.

As the chart above shows, the share of Australian residents born overseas last peaked in the late 1890s. Nearly 30 per cent of the population were foreign-born at the time following the first mining boom and the surge in Chinese migration in the gold rush era, according to Anna Boucher, a senior lecturer in the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.

“Then there was the introduction of ‘White Australia’ and the effective closing of borders, with the exception of some Commonwealth migration, up until the post-war period,” Dr Boucher said.

This explains the steep decline in the share of overseas-born Australians during the first half of the 20th century.

The dramatic turnaround in the mid-1940s reflects the shift to a mass migration policy, driven by a belief that Australia must “populate or perish” to survive in the post-war era. A new migration scheme aimed to increase the population by one percent a year.

The dip in the late-1970s relates to low migration intake under the Whitlam and Fraser governments. Since 2000, the figure has risen steadily. “The story there is around bipartisan support for temporary migration,” Dr Boucher said–in particular, rapid increases in the number of working holiday makers and international students.

Australia ranks fourth among OECD countries for the largest proportion of overseas-born residents, behind Luxembourg (43.7 per cent), Switzerland (28.3 per cent) and New Zealand (28.2 per cent) according to 2013 statistics from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Australia has traditionally had a high proportion of migrants, but we’ve now hit a peak not seen since the late 1800s,” said Beidar Cho from the ABS.

Nepali-born nurse Pushpa Belbase, who joined her husband in Sydney in 1996, said the first few years were difficult but now, she wouldn’t live elsewhere.

“It was hard to leave home–our parents are still over there; there was no one here to support us in that time . . . but now I feel like Australia is home,” she said.

“Two of my children were born here. It’s a better life than Nepal. It’s easy to survive and you can get a good education here. I’m so happy we came.”