SYDNEY – New figures show that migration to Australia plummeted last year to the lowest level in more than 100 years.
Modern Australia has been built on immigration. Thirty percent of the population was born overseas. Migrants from England are the biggest group, followed by India and China.
Australia has relied on new settlers for much of its economic growth in recent decades.
But COVID-19 has applied the brakes to immigration.
The government in Canberra closed the country’s borders to most foreign nationals in March 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19, and those restrictions are likely to remain for another year.
In 2020, just 3,300 migrants moved to Australia — a small fraction of the 244,000 arrivals the previous year. The collapse in numbers has affected many businesses unable to recruit skilled workers from overseas, as well as universities which have relied on large numbers of international students.
Mark McCrindle, founder of the McCrindle Research agency, says the turnaround has been significant.
“It is phenomenal. We were growing through migration. In fact, prior to the pandemic 60% of our population growth was because of arrivals from overseas. Last year that was just 2%. So, 98% of our growth is natural increase at the moment and even the births are not doing very well. So, we just have not seen such low numbers, such small growth in Australia for a century,” McCrindle said.
Canberra has set a limit of 13,750 places on its annual Refugee and Humanitarian Program, although border closures have made it almost impossible for successful applicants to travel to Australia.
The pandemic has also reshaped internal migration in Australia. Regional areas that are outside of major cities have had their largest net inflow of people since the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) started measuring domestic migration in 2001.
The ABS said 43,000 Australians moved to regional areas from major cities in 2020, more than double the number in 2019.
Experts have estimated that it could take Australia as much as a decade for its immigration intake to return to pre-pandemic levels.