Quantifying the Australian diaspora population

We refer anecdotally to a ‘virtual grid’ of over one million Australians living and working abroad at any one time, but who are these one million wanderers, and where are they now? In this 2013 research project, Advance embarked on a journey to answer these questions on behalf of the bright and far-flung community of Australians abroad. Our research confirmed something we already knew – wherever you go in the world, you’ll likely run into an Australian.

Research by Samantha Banfield   

We refer anecdotally to a ‘virtual grid’ of over one million Australians living and working abroad at any one time, but who are these one million wanderers, and where are they now? 

Advance embarked on a bold journey to answer these questions on behalf of the bright and far-flung community of Australians abroad. 

Our preliminary findings are below and we invite interested members, anthropologists, statisticians and data holders to work with us to paint a fuller picture of the Australian Diaspora. If you are interested in assisting, or would like further information, please direct any questions or feedback to [email protected].


Australians are a well-travelled bunch, chalking up over eight million overseas departures in 2012 alone. Of that number, 372,200 left our shores with the intention to go ‘for good’. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) anticipates that around 80,000 of those Aussies will see that dream realised, starting a new life abroad in 2013 [1].

While this data is useful in measuring Australians intentions to live abroad, it is still only an estimate in terms of how many Australians were ultimately successful in realising their goal to live and work overseas. 

Similarly, data through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) ‘Smart Traveller’ registration services help add to the picture, however, do not capture details on all Australians living and travelling abroad, only those using the Smart Traveller service. 

Until there is an increased take-up of ‘Smart Traveller’ registration services, DFAT relies on the data provided by individual Australian consulates operating around the world. The difficulty surveying 160+ consulates means that it has in the past been done infrequently.

In fact, the most recently published figure was 759,849, produced in 2004 as part of DFAT’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into Australian Expatriates [2].

In an effort to update this figure, Advance has contacted several key Consulates. Responses were received from the United Kingdom, United States of America, Greece, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Italy as a starting point. These responses have helped us track updated data on regional trends and characteristics below. 

Regional trends

While NZ, the UK and the US remain the most popular countries of future residence for departing Aussies, the focus is shifting towards our Asian neighbours. Hong Kong is a strong-hold for Australians looking to do business in Asia and there has been a notable increase in emigration to Singapore, China, Japan and Thailand in the last ten years. This period has also seen a rise in emigration from Australia to the United Arab Emirates [3] (more detail on country-specific trends is below).

Characteristics of Australians abroad

The Australian diaspora has been characterised by population researchers as relatively young, highly skilled and highly educated [4]. They have also been sighted as increasingly mobile, moving between Australia and other countries as career and life chances appear [5]. 



Total permanent departures occur in the greatest number for Australians in the 25-39 age bracket. The gender distribution is almost even, with an increasing departure rate for females in their 20s and 30s.


Australian Taxation Office (ATO) information indicates that residents of New South Wales (260,000 individuals), Victoria (203,000 individuals) and Queensland (180,000 individuals) were the key breadwinners abroad in 2010/11.


Foreign-born residents have made up approximately half of all Australian permanent departures since 1998/99 with the largest groups originating from New Zealand, the United Kingdom, China, Hong Kong (SARS) and Vietnam. Most of these individuals called Australia home for five years or more and then left to return to their country of birth.

Australian-born emigration still occurs in greatest numbers to the United Kingdom, the United States and to New Zealand. The next most popular destinations in 2010/11 were Singapore (9.4%), Hong Kong (5.8%) and the United Arab Emirates (5.2%). DIAC indicate that Australian-born departures are generally connected with employment opportunities abroad.


A 2003 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) survey of 346,000 Australian-born expatriates revealed that Australians were mostly abroad for employment reasons. OECD went further, stating that over two-thirds of expatriate Australians are ‘professionals, para-professionals, managers or in administrative occupations’ and concluding that the emigration of Australian-born residents is likely to continue as a result of the increasing ease of travel, internationalisation of labour markets and global demand for skilled workers.

An examination of 2010/11 Passenger Cards suggests that over 60% of people departing permanently were employed prior to leaving Australia — 42.34% as professionals (23,892), 21% as managers (11,825) and 7.3% as technicians and trades workers (4,140).


In a 2006 address to the Advance 100 Global Australians Summit, the then Australian Treasurer Peter Costello spoke of a high rate of return among Australian permanent departures. Mr Costello stated in his address that most expatriates who leave when they are young, come back to Australia for significant events in their life, for example, when their children start school, when a parent enters care, or when they retire. This commentary was supported by a Productivity Commission report of the same year, which found that 75% of skilled Australian residents returned within two years of their intended ‘permanent’ departure.


While our preliminary research has gone some way to uncovering where and why Australians are living overseas – we need your help to help fill in the gaps!

We invite public bodies, academics, research students and our own members to help build a picture of the number, location and vocation of Australians living and working abroad.

Advance will spearhead the collation of any additional, relevant data provided to us by our members and third parties. Please be sure to provide source information to enable an assessment of the quality of the data you provide. Great work will be acknowledged in any final publication.

If you are looking for a way to get involved, please consider the following action items:

Contact the Consulates

There are over 160 Australian diplomatic and consular missions and posts around the world (this includes 20 Canadian diplomatic missions under Australia’s Consular Sharing Agreement with Canada). Advance was only able to make contact with a few of these offices as part of our preliminary research process (on account of resourcing and language barriers) and these are mentioned specifically in the body of this article.

We note that the approach taken by the Australian Embassy in Washington was to match foreign government visa data (USCIS ‘Oceania’ data in this case) with passport applications and Smart Traveller results. This produced a reliable estimate of Australians in the US.

Ask foreign governments for information

Most governments have a unit, agency or department dedicated to managing immigration matters, eg UK’s Home Office. Information about visas granted may be published, available upon request or for available at a cost (eg Freedom of Information application fees).

Advance has encountered the following challenges in obtaining information:

  • language barriers
  • delays in response, including with FOI applications (eg Advance lodged a Freedom of Information application with the US Department of Homeland Security in November 2012 and is currently waiting on a response)
  • published data frequently uses ‘Oceania’ grand totals, with no breakdown.

Consider the power of social media

We are acutely aware that Facebook, Skype and LinkedIn (as examples) have the ability to collect location-based data. A member’s country of residence/origin is often provided as a part of the account set-up process and when that changes, we expect these social media heavies are making a note of it. Access to this de-identified data would be invaluable.

To learn more about how DFAT and other government bodies are using social media check out this panel discussion from The Lowy Institute: The political selfie, soft power and the art of digital diplomacy.

The panel refers to the Soft Power 30, the world’s most comprehensive assessment and comparison of global soft power which aims to bring new clarity and understanding to the soft power resources of the world’s major nations. The report can be accessed here.

If you are interested in assisting, or would like further information, please direct any questions or feedback to [email protected].

Advance would like to extend a special thanks to Samantha Banfield, who has led this major section of the diaspora research project. Samantha’s initiative, dedication to detail and persistence is the first step in our important quest to track where and why our Australian expatriates are living abroad. 



Limitations to current research

Net Overseas Migration (NOM) is the net gain or loss of population through immigration to Australia and emigration from Australia. NOM annual departures by long term and permanent residents have held steady in recent years at around 80,000-90,000.[6]

DIAC’s Net Overseas Migration forecasting framework now reconciles the latest arrival and departure data with past behaviour of migrants across different visa groups.[7] In this way, it is designed to reach a figure based not on actual movements rather than intentions stated by passengers on their boarding cards. That said, it has been noted that the NOM figure will still exclude a significant (and increasing) number of Australians living and working abroad who return home once a year and still regard Australia as a permanent place of residence. These individuals will be regarded as short-term departures[8].

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has indicated that it does not know for sure the number of Australians abroad. Until there is an increased take-up of the ‘Smart Traveller’ registration services provided by DFAT, it relies on the data of the individual Australian consulates operating around the world. The difficulty surveying 160+ consulates means that it has been done infrequently. In fact, the most recently published figure was 759,849; produced in 2004 as part of DFAT’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into Australian Expatriates.[2]

In an effort to update this figure, Advance has contacted several key Consulates. Responses were received from the United Kingdom, United States of America, Greece, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Italy.

Consulate Responses

UNITED KINGDOM –The Australian High Commission in London referred to immigration data from 2010 which indicates that 275,000 Australian residents ‘returned’ to the UK from a temporary absence abroad. (Issues with this data include that (a) this figure may include multiple entries by one individual within the year; and (b) border control data does not capture the large community of dual nationals who use their British passport in transit.)

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA –In 2010, the Australian Consulate General (US) was quoted as stating there were approximately 200,000 Australians living in the United States; a large percentage of whom are concentrated in the Northeast region. The 2011 snapshot provided by the Australian Embassy in Washington supported those numbers with a grand total of 160,000 (65,000 long-term visa holders and 95,000 dual national and Green Card holders) and an Aussie resident population of over 20,000 in New York City alone.

GREECE—The Australian Embassy in Athens stated they do not maintain such statistics but were willing to provide a ‘guess’ of 100,000 Australian or dual nationals living in Greece.

HONG KONG—The Australian Consulate General (Hong Kong) stated that the figure is around 80,000.

NEW ZEALAND—The Australian High Commission in Wellington referred back to the 2006 census which indicated there were roughly 66,050 Australian living in New Zealand (the 2011 census was cancelled due to the earthquakes in Christchurch at the time).

ITALY—The Australian Embassy in Rome estimated that there were approximately  30,000 Australian citizens resident in Italy as of 2007.

Due to a low response rate, Advance turned to the ATO. Helpfully, the ATO confirmed that it has received notice of foreign income from around one million individuals each year for the last ten years (to 2010/11)[9]. Although convenient, this is not a perfect answer as many of the income earners will be living in Australia while earning foreign currency. Please click here to see the full ATO data sets.[10] 

Following further enquiries with foreign governments, financial institutions and social networking giants, Advance concluded that current data on the total number of Australian living and working abroad is not readily available. Therefore, by way of an interim conclusion (or starting point for further research) Advance has compiled the best available data for those regions we know to host a significant Australian population.

Country-specific trends based on Consulate Responses


The motherland continues to be our first port of call for making a life abroad. Most recently published immigration data (border control) from 2010 indicated that 1.06 million Australians entered the UK and around 275,000 of these were Australian residents returning from a temporary absence abroad.

The Office of National Statistics (UK) states there are over 100,000 long-term visa holders currently residing in the UK, in addition to a significant population of dual nationals. The London Times suggested that this combined Australian community reached a peak of 400,000 in 2008. [Welcome Stranger (Nov 25 2008)]


The Australian love affair with the United States endures. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security counted over ten million Aussie touchdowns in the state California alone. Over half of these trips included a visit to the Big Apple (six million). Whilst this level of tourism is unsurprising given the strength of the Aussie dollar relative to the Greenback, there are a steady stream of Aussies swapping the streets of Bondi for those of downtown Nolita. They are not alone, with the New York contingent exceeding the 20,000 mark in 2011 and the US total reaching 160,000 (65,000 long-term visa holders and 95,000 Dual National and Green Card holders).


Our closest Neighbour remains a mainstay of Australian immigration and emigration. Visits in each direction exceeded 1.1 million in 2012 and trans-Tasman relocation remained steady. There are around half a million New Zealand citizens living in Australia and over 65,000 Australians living in New Zealand.

Europe – other

Outside the UK, over 200,000 Australians call Europe home. Fiscal uncertainty is Greece has done little to alter the permanent flow of Australian residents to the Land of the Gods. According to Greek authorities, the figure is around 100,000, but Parthena Stavropoulos, President of the Greek Orthodox Community in Victoria states with confidence that the figure is closer to 125,000.

The Australian Embassy in Rome estimates that there were approximately 30,000 Australian citizens residing in Italy in 2007. Other significant communities of Australians reside in Germany (15,000), Turkey (12,000), the Netherlands (9,000), France (5,500) and Switzerland (5,000).

[1] FEATURE ARTICLE: INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENTS — 2012[email protected]/Previousproducts/3401.0Feature%20Article1Dec%202012?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3401.0&issue=Dec%202012&num=&view=

[2] Submission No 646 to the Senate Inquiry into Australian Expatriates, 2004, p. 5.

[3] [FEATURE ARTICLE: INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENTS — 2012[email protected]/Previousproducts/3401.0Feature%20Article1Dec%202012?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3401.0&issue=Dec%202012&num=&view=

[4] G Hugo, D Rudd and K Harris, Australia’s Diaspora: Its Size, Nature and Policy Implications, Final Report, Committee for Economic Development of Australia, July 2003 (Hugo report), pp. 32-35; see also Professor Graeme Hugo, Committee Hansard, 28 July 2004, p. 2.

[5] Michael Fullilove. Diaspora: The World Wide Web of Australians (21 December 2005); Hugo G., Rudd D. and K. Harris, 2003, Emigration of Australians: Recent developments and policy issues. National Centre for Social Application GIS, University of Adelaide.

[6] Latest issue on Migration in Australia (released 20/8/2012)[email protected]/Products/07C4285C66219C10CA257A5A00120A94?opendocument

[7] The Outlook for Net Overseas Migration: June 2012  Report page 3.

[8] G Hugo, D Rudd and K Harris, Australia’s Diaspora: Its Size, Nature and Policy Implications, Final Report, Committee for Economic Development of Australia, July 2003

[9] 842,520 (2010/11), 921,560 (2009/10), 990,795 (2008/09), 1,100,085 (2007/08), 1,106,235 (2006/07), 1,070,675 (2005/06), 1,015,195 (2004/05), 943,755 (2003/04), 915,370 (2002/03), 831,255 (2001/02).

[10] Our thanks to Taxation Statistics officers at the Revenue Analysis Branch (ATO).