The McGowan Government recently suspended the Western Australian State Nominated Migration Program.[1] This was inevitable given that international and interstate borders remain closed. However, new migrants could flood into WA if the interstate borders are opened up.

Here is why the McGowan Government needs to postpone State Migration for a long period.

There are over 2 million temporary visa holders in Australia at June 30, 2020 (See Chart 2 below). The rise in temporary visas from June 2012 to June 2020 is considerable at 23.4%.  

Immediately after interstate borders are opened, many of those temporary migrants will be looking to extend their visas or gain permanent residence.

They will be able to do this through using Australia’s online visa program. The State Government that offers the most occupations, visa extensions and invitations, are the one most migrants will move to.

State Government’s delivered over 21,000 permanent visas in 2019-20.[2] States’ operate and control their migration occupation list.

In 2019, the McGowan Government included Greater Perth as eligible for regional migration. This led to regional visas comprising 13.5% of West Australia’s permanent arrivals in 2019-20. It is important to understand the smaller the State migration occupation list the fewer migrants will be enticed to that State or vice versa.

The McGowan Government has faired better in this regard than other States’. The Government chopped the State occupation list in 2017. The consequence of this was a fall in new migrant arrivals (See Chart 1 below). By 2019-20 Western Australia has dropped to fifth place as the State of intended residence for new permanent arrivals.

Western Australia is experiencing extremely high levels of youth unemployment due to the pandemic and the recession. Therefore, it is welcome news that there was a decline in permanent visa arrivals in WA for 2019 -20 (See Chart 1 below). West Australia made up 8.1 % of Australia’s total permanent visas for 2019-20.[3] The indications are that the downward trend will continue moving into 2020-21.

When the interstate borders do open. It would be indefensible for the WA Government to expand the occupation list. There are over 50,000 Western Australian youth either unemployed or temporarily stood down from the Labour Force. Prioritising employment for West Australians’ before temporary visas (foreign nationals) should be the main focus of a reasonable Government.

Chart 1: Permanent migration program outcome: Western Australia 2010-11 to 2019-20

(Source: Department of Home Affairs, 2020.[4])

Temporary visas pose a big problem in the current economic climate.

Most temporary entrants have Australian work permits. The Federal Labor Government introduced automatic work permits for temporary foreign students in 2008. The outcome led to a significant increase in demand demonstrated in Chart 2 below.  In 2010 foreign students made up 19% of temporary visas by 2020 this had increased to 27%.

Given the Wuhan coronavirus has caused huge unemployment (well over 1 million Australians not in the Labour force). Surely the Federal Government needs to consider cutting the number of hour’s foreign students are permitted to work.

There are more serious long-term unemployment implications for Australia if the Government does not address this. When the international borders eventually open the number of temporary entrants will continue its upward trend. And competition in local Labour markets will intensify.

Opening interstate borders also pose a predicament for State Governments’ with their high rates of general and youth unemployment. A possible remedy to reducing intense competition for scarce local jobs is through cutting or postponing State Migration Occupation Lists. As is demonstrated in Chart 1 above, this results in a significant drop in migrant arrivals.

Chart 2: Temporary visa holders in Australia (2012 – 2020).

(Source: Australian Government, 2020.[5])


[1] Government of West Australia, ‘Migration WA – WA Migration Services’, 2020 <> [accessed 16 August 2020].

[2] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, ‘2019 – 20 Migration Program Report- Year to 30 June 2020’, 2020 <> [accessed 10 September 2020].

[3] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs.

[4] Australian Government Department of Home Affairs.

[5] Australian Government, ‘Temporary Visa Holders in Australia | Datasets | Data.Gov.Au – Beta’, 2020 <> [accessed 9 July 2020].

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