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Fact sheet - Emigration from Australia

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While most of the debate on migration concentrates on the numbers and characteristics of immigrants to Australia, emigration (that is, people leaving Australia) has increased substantially since the mid-1990s.

A total of 91 761 people indicated that they left Australia permanently in 2012-13, a 4.9 per cent drop from 2011-12.


Statistics on permanent departures are based on information provided by passengers as they leave Australia. The statistics provide a picture of trends, although the available figures do not totally represent the emigration picture.
Example: The statistics only include those passengers who declare an intention to depart Australia permanently. They do not take into account people who record they are leaving temporarily but who do not return. The statistics also don't include those who say they are leaving permanently but who then subsequently return.

Reasons for emigration

The decision to leave Australia is usually based on a complex and varied set of reasons.

Overseas-born emigrants may return to their country of birth because of feelings of homesickness or insecurity, especially those who leave within a year or two of arriving in Australia. Older emigrants sometimes depart after they retire. Widowhood and divorce can also motivate departures. Younger immigrants may also return to their country of birth because they are needed by their family in their former country.

For Australian-born people, the decision to leave permanently is usually based on economic reasons, particularly employment. Some children born in Australia to former settlers eventually return with their parents to their country of origin.

With the exception of New Zealanders, there is no significant relationship between unemployment rates and emigration - high unemployment rates do not necessarily lead to high levels of emigration, or vice versa.

Emigration levels

Over the post-war period, for those born overseas, high (or low) emigration levels have been associated with high (or low) numbers of permanent arrivals two years earlier. In other words, a small but significant number of people migrating to Australia chose to leave within two years.

In recent years, more Australian-born residents have been emigrating. This trend is likely to continue as a result of the increasing internationalisation of labour markets and global demand for skilled workers.

Emigration by overseas-born

Of the 91 737 people who indicated they were departing permanently in 2012-13, 52.7 per cent were born overseas, a slight increase on the 2011–12 proportion of 51.1 per cent.

The largest group of overseas-born emigrants in 2012-13 were the New Zealand-born, with 9685 people or 10 per cent of all emigrants. Permanent movements between Australia and New Zealand reflect differences between relative real incomes and employment opportunities in the two countries.

The United Kingdom-born were the second largest emigrant group, with 7553 people (8.2 per cent) departing permanently, followed by China-born (6423 people or 7.0 per cent), Hong Kong SAR-born (2491 people or 2.7 per cent)  and United States of America-born (1301 people or 1.4 per cent).

A majority of these emigrant groups returned to their country of birth.
Example: New Zealand (81.3 per cent), Hong Kong SAR (75.1 per cent), China (70.1 per cent), United States of America (69.1 per cent), and the United Kingdom (57.2 per cent).

Most (73.1 per cent) overseas-born people who left Australia permanently in 2012-13 had lived in Australia for more than five years. However, a significant proportion (11.5 per cent) departed after fewer than two years residence in Australia.

Emigration by Australian-born

In 2012-13, 43 423 Australia-born people departed permanently. This figure includes the Australia-born children of former settlers.

Overwhelmingly, the Australia-born are emigrating to the United Kingdom, the United States or to New Zealand. In 2012-13, 44.0 per cent of Australian-born emigrants went to one of these three countries. The next most popular destinations were Singapore (10.0 per cent), Hong Kong SAR (5.4 per cent) and the United Arab Emirates (4.6 per cent).

Skilled emigration

In 2012-13, 62.9 per cent of people departing permanently were in employment prior to leaving. The largest group of those employed (24 272 or 42.0 per cent) were professionals, followed by managers (12 227 or 21.2 per cent) and technicians and trades workers (4566 or 7.9 per cent). Further, an estimated 7.6 per cent were believed to be employed but did not provide an adequate description to properly classify their occupation.

A total of 34.1 per cent (including children) stated on their passenger cards that they were not in the labour force or not in employment. There were an additional 2.9 per cent where no details on occupation were available.

Effects of emigration

The effects of emigration are varied but some of the important implications are:

  • Emigration is a large component of population change, and population change has implications for planning many private and public services.
  • Emigration can represent a loss of skills and experience as well as a loss of social investment in fields such as education, training, health services and settlement costs of immigrants.
  • Emigrants can help develop links between Australia and its trading partners by facilitating access to overseas markets for Australian goods and services.
  • Emigrants may send back substantial remittances and invest foreign currency in Australia.
  • Emigrants who return to Australia they may bring back new skills and knowledge.

Further information

For further reading, see: Hugo, G., Rudd, D. and Harris, K. (2001) Emigration From Australia, Economic Implications CEDA.​