Sharp fall in immigration

Net immigration is down sharply, by around 170,000 on an annualised basis, compared with the peak rates recorded a year and a half ago.

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In August, 43,140 people arrived in Australia intending to settle here permanently or to stay for more than a year, figures released on Wednesday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show.

At the same time, 30,670 people left, intending to stay away for the long term or permanently.

The balance, the net inflow, was 12,470, compared with 20,130 in August last year.

The figures are not seasonally adjusted, but it is still clear that the net inflow of people to Australia has slowed sharply.

The total inflow in the year to August was 222,620, compared with 337,460 in the year to August 2009, a drop of 114,800 from one year to the next.

But this comparison masks the steeper rate of decline through the past year or so.

Taking into account the pronounced seasonality and volatility of the monthly data, it appears that the influx peaked around March or April last year at a trend rate of around 30,000 per month, but has since fallen to around 16,000 per month, a drop of around 170,000 on an annualised basis.

In other words, if the trend in net immigration continues at the rate of the most recent few months, by early next year we will be seeing full-year totals of barely half the number seen as recently as last winter.

The arrivals and departures figures do not correspond exactly with the official net overseas migration estimates from the bureau’s demographers.

The arrivals and departures statistics are based on intentions at the time of arrival or departure, while the population figures are based on a follow-up survey to find out what the travellers actually did.

Even so, the two series generally head in the same direction and at the same pace.

So we can be confident that the pace of immigration has indeed slowed, and slowed sharply.

Economic implications varied

From an economic perspective, the implications are varied.

On one hand, it means the potential for economic growth is more limited than currently supposed.

The supply of labour is a constraint on growth, so the slower growth in the supply of labour means that constraint will be reached sooner.

On the other hand, it means employment growth is being overestimated, because it is based on an assumed rate of population growth that has not yet been adjusted to take into account the reduced immigration.

So, while the labour supply constraint is closer than we thought, we are heading towards it commensurately more slowly.

Slower immigration also has implications for the housing market.

Fewer new households being formed means fewer new homes will be needed.

Builders may have less work on their order books than they expected.

But those looking to buy a home may find fewer rival bidders and less pressure on prices.