Just like the United States, Australia risks stagnant population growth — and economic losses — unless unless it increases its managed isolation, quarantine capacity for international arrivals, and number of permanent migrants, according to new research from the United States Studies Centre (USSC).

New research from USSC Trade and Investment Program Director Dr Stephen Kirchner shows that the United States is experiencing its weakest population growth in 100 years due to record low fertility and the Trump administration’s dramatic tightening of immigration policy, driving long-lasting economic restrictions. Australia is already facing the urgent need to increase inbound capacity for Australians returning home, but this capacity needs to be expanded and extended to allow for the migration needed for economic recovery, Dr Kirchner argues.

“Before the pandemic, Australia’s population was growing at a rate around three times faster than the United States. The collapse in net overseas migration due to the closing of our international borders will see Australia’s population growth decline to the same low rate as the United States over the next few years unless we take active policy measures to offset it,” Kircher says.

Australia will suffer a permanent loss of population and productive potential because the government is assuming no attempt to catch up on lost net overseas migration as the international border is reopened, Dr Kirchner argues. But, according to him, Australia is likely to suffer significant shortages of skilled and other labour as the economy recovers.

“The current limited inbound arrival capacity reflects an assumption by government that managed isolation and quarantine cannot be significantly scaled up, but this is a resourcing problem rather than a technical or operational problem,” Dr Kirchner says.

The report recommends the federal government increase managed isolation and quarantine capacity to ease the current rationing of inbound arrivals. The report argues the government should also set aside its 2019 budget planning cap on permanent migration of 160,000 and allow migration numbers to be determined by qualitative criteria rather than quantitative limits.

“Australia has an opportunity to attract the global talent that has increasingly been turned away from the US, but faces stiff competition from Canada, which is planning to take one million permanent migrants by 2022,” Dr Kirchner says.

To book a briefing with report author Dr Stephen Kirchner, please email us at: us-studies@sydney.edu.au


  • Immigration and population growth have historically been a key source of US national power and dynamism and major drivers of innovation and entrepreneurship, but this tightened significantly under the Trump administration.
  • In the latest polling, for the first time, more Americans want an increase in immigration than a decrease.
  • Australia will experience a permanent loss of population and productive potential because the government assumes no future make up of lost net overseas migration, but this is a policy choice that could be offset with a more liberal approach to immigration in the future.
  • Restoring and then exceeding pre-pandemic levels of net overseas migration will be essential to economic recovery.
  • In the short term, Australia needs to increase its managed isolation and quarantine capacity to be able to safely process more international arrivals, which are currently capped at 5,575 per week.
  • The pandemic affords an opportunity to re-think the immigration policy and planning framework.


Taylor Mellor
T 02 9114 2622
E taylor.mellor@sydney.edu.au