Information Paper 80: Australia's Diaspora: Its Size, Nature and Policy Implications

Australians choose to live and work overseas in ever-greater numbers. But so long as we encourage enough Australians to eventually return, we will experience a beneficial "brain circulation" rather than a damaging "brain drain".


Report highlights

In 2001, it is estimated that about 860,000 Australians were living overseas on a long-term or permanent basis. This is Australia's own "diaspora" - a disproportionately well-educated, high-income group of Australians living outside Australia's borders. More than a third are in the UK, but emigration to Asia is rising fast. Most left to find better employment opportunities and richer careers.

Australia is in a global competition to attract skilled people. So what should we do about the diaspora?

  1. First, recognise that the traffic is two-way. Australia does not have a "brain drain" but a "brain gain" once inflows of skilled migrants are assessed.
  2. Second, recognise that we can do more to attract skilled expatriates back to Australia - though given that these expatriates left to find richer jobs, there are limits to what we can do.  
  3. Third, we should not attempt to block the flow of young talent overseas. Indeed, the stock of skilled Australians overseas could be a major national asset and it may be possible to develop policies that nurture and maximise this asset.

The possibility of Australia developing an emigration policy which is integrated with immigration policy and wider economic, social and human resources policies needs to be given consideration.

About the report

CEDA's partners on Australia's Diaspora were the National Centre for Social Applications of GIS (GISCA) at the University of Adelaide, and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The researchers were Graeme Hugo, Dianne Rudd and Kevin Harris.