Vehicles and people line up early morning for charter flights for students headed to Australia.(Photo Credit: Passang Tshering)

Australia Wave turns into a Tsunami as 0.85% of population gets student visas in last six months of 2022

For months now flights to Bangkok have been going full or nearly full from Paro, but only a handful would be getting off at Bangkok, as the majority had transit flights onto Australia.

In addition to this, entire flights are being chartered as the normal flights are not enough.

The social media is also full of images of tearful family members saying their goodbyes to large numbers of youths heading to Australia, including from a vantage point above Paro Airport.

These images are backed up by data from the Home Affairs Department of Australia which shows that in the last six months of 2022 from 1 July to 31st December 2022 a total of 6,497 Bhutanese got visas to go to Australia.

This is almost equivalent to the number of Bhutanese traveling out in the last three financial years. The Australian and Bhutanese Financial years (FY) are the same.

In a 12-month period of 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 FY a total of 2,583 Bhutanese had got visas.

Similarly, from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021 FY a total of 1,826 Bhutanese got visas.

Before this, the highest ever number of Bhutanese getting visas was from the 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 FY where a total of 2,933 Bhutanese got visas.

Types of courses and dependents

Of the 6,497 Bhutanese who got visas in the last six months of 2022, 3,500 are doing various courses in Australia and 2,997 Bhutanese are going as their dependents which is usually a wife or husband.

Of the 3,500 who are doing courses, 2,886 are for the higher educational sector which is masters and under graduate courses and then 590 are for vocational education and training courses. 13 are going for other courses sponsored by the Australian government and 10 are going for the English Language courses.

New born babies to those above 55 are going

The data shows that people are not going alone or with couples, but some are taking their families too.

If one looks at age of the 6,497 Bhutanese who got visas children from age zero to 19 are 819 in number.

Those from the 20 to 24 years who are mainly out of college or just entering a job are 1,142.

The young professionals’ category from ages 25 to 29 are the largest category with 1,786 of them.

The next largest group are from the more senior professionals of ages 30 to 34 category with 1,474 of them.

The more experienced professionals with the most experience of ages 35 to 39 constitute 852 people.

Age does not seem to be a barrier for Australia as 316 people from ages 40 to 44 are going, 82 people from the ages of 45 to 49 are going and 19 from the 50 to 54 age group are going and there are 7 people above the age of 55 going.

When it comes to gender of the 6,497 going around half are females at 3,334 and 3,163 are males while less than five have listed unspecified gender.

Biggest Chunk to Perth but many also head to other cities

The largest chunk of the 6,497 are going to Western Australia which translates as Perth with 4,731 heading there.

665 are going to Queensland whose capital is Brisbane, 512 in Australian Capital Territory which has Canberra, 169 in Victoria whose capital is Melbourne, 146 in New South Wales which has Sydney, 67 in South Australia which has Adelaide, 9 in Northern Territory which has Darwin, 6 in Tasmania while data for 192 is not listed.

Acceptance rate at a low

The large numbers of students getting visas in the six months seems to do with the February in take which is the main intake of students and the other major one is in July.

This also corresponds with the large volumes of students traveling out in December and January quite a lot of which has made it to social media.

While a record number of 6,497 Bhutanese got visas in six months the acceptance rate at 76.9% is the lowest since 2014-15 FY.

This means that 8,521 people had applied for the visa of which only 6,497 got it. A large number of the rejections would have been the ones for diploma or vocational courses.

At the same time higher rejection rates happen when there are more applicants.

Bhutan’s Australia rush is much higher than neighbours or global trend

A big and important question of our time is if the Australia rush is unique to Bhutan or if there is a global trend.

If one looks at student visa granted to all students of the world going to Australia, then from 1 July 2022 to 31 December 2022 there were 283,573 visas granted in six months.

This is compared to 263,737 visas granted in a 12-month period from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022 FY, 232,750 visas in the 2020-21 FY, 340,152 visas in 2019-20 FY.

So while there is a definite global uptick in the last six months it is not as high as Bhutan.

To illustrate even way back in 2008-09 FY 319,630 student visas were given in total.

The student visa data for Bhutan looks alarming when one compares to a country like Nepal which is known for its high outwards migration rate.

As per data from the National Statistical Bureau (NSB) Bhutan has 763,250 people or 0.7 million people in 2022 and of this 6,497 got visas in the last six months of 2022.

This is 0.85% of the total population.

Nepal has around 30.54 million people of which only 21,587 people got visas in the same 6-month period. This is only 0.07% of Nepal’s population.

The rush in Nepal also picked up from 2016-17 onwards with 18,507 visas granted which increased to 31,779 visas in 2018-19 FY. However, the rise is nowhere as dramatic as Bhutan.

India has 1.4 billion people of which only 52,159 got visas in the last six months to Australia which is 0.003% of the population or near negligible. The numbers have been fluctuating for India but is more stable. In 2015-16 FY it was 29,591 visas granted which jumped to 66,449 visas in FY 2018-19.

So while there was an increase it is not as dramatic as Bhutan.

Bangladesh has a population of 171.186 mn people but only 4,187 people got student visas in the last six months which is only 0.002% of its population.

In the case of Bangladesh from as far back as 2005-06 when data is available only around 3,000 to 4,000 people were getting visas every year.

In South Asia the only country which has lesser population than Bhutan is Maldives at 523,787 people in 2022, but here only 64 people got student visas to Australia in the last six months of 2022 which is 0.01% of its population.

Sri Lanka with a population of 21.83 million has been facing a massive financial crisis in 2022 but even here after such a crisis only 6,332 of them got student visas to Australia. Sri Lanka saw a slight increase from 2016-17 FY but the numbers are much more stable than Bhutan.

Don’t panic but look at context

From the data above the immediate reaction would be panic when one only looks at Australia, but each of the South Asian countries above have large expatriate populations working abroad.

What is clear is that Bhutan is in the middle of building a large expatriate community outside mainly going to seek better economic opportunities.

The government estimates that there are 32,285 Bhutanese in 111 countries either working or studying and this is 4.22% of the population.

Nepal has around 7.5% of its population working outside while Bangladesh has around 4.5% working outside and India has around 1.26%.

The bad and good news

The bad news for Bhutan is that it is in the middle of losing a large chunk of its youngest and brightest workforce in significant numbers to Australia and other countries as we finally start forming a major expatriate community.

However, on the bright side, since a large section of the migration is to Australia and that too for higher education, it is higher quality migration than most of our South Asian neighbours. This means smaller numbers of our people should generate more remittance and get better skills.

In comparison, the largest numbers of migrants from Bangladesh and Nepal are to India where it is mostly jobs lower down on the economic ladder and hence not very effective despite the large numbers.

The migration from Bhutan to Australia shows the success of Bhutan in producing a well educated and healthy working force, but it also shows the failure of Bhutan to develop a strong enough economy to give jobs or retain these people.

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One comment

  1. “The migration from Bhutan to Australia shows the success of Bhutan in producing a well educated and healthy working force” ?? so many people went out but still has brought nothing to Bhutan. How can we say this as a healthy force ?

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