Interactive: international students make up more than 30% of population in some Australian suburbs

International students made up more than 30% of the population in some Australian suburbs, before borders closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Mitchell Institute mapped where international students lived using data from the ABS census and Department of Home Affairs.

The results show striking growth in capital cities, and in some regional areas.

The mapping highlights how international students have become intertwined in Australia’s social fabric. Not only do they contribute A$38 billion to the economy annually and support 130,000 jobs (at any one time), they are also important members of local communities.

The Mitchell Institute research helps illustrate how, beyond universities’ suffering at the loss of international students, local businesses and communities are also being negatively affected.

Where do international students live?

City areas and suburbs close to university campuses have the most international students.

The centre of Melbourne had the largest number of international students in the country – at almost 20,000, or 38% of the resident population. The neighbouring suburb of Carlton has the next largest with 9,600 or 39% of the population.

The Canberra suburb of Acton, where ANU is located, had one of the highest proportions of international students in the country – at about 44%.

International students in Canberra.

Many international students have chosen to live in suburbs further away from university campuses, too.

We estimate more than 10% of the population in the Sydney suburbs of Hurstville and Strathfield were international students.

International students in Sydney.

International students made up more than 5% of the population in areas such as Dandenong and Laverton in Melbourne, Joondalup in Perth, and Regency Park in Adelaide.

Affordable property and good transport links may make these suburbs attractive options.

International students in Adelaide

Regional areas have also benefited from international students, especially those with university campuses. For instance, in Darling Heights and Gatton in regional Queensland, more than 5% of the population were international students.

How local communities and economies benefit

Wherever international students live they will be important parts of communities and economies.

We also examined Universities Australia’s student finance data to identify the type of businesses that benefit most from international education.


Read more: 'I love Australia': 3 things international students want Australians to know


We found over 36% of international student spending goes towards retail and entertainment. This is money that will be spent in Australian cafes, markets and other venues.

Another 36% of spending went to property. As 65% of international students rent, much of this income will support Australian property investors.

The benefits international students bring extend beyond the economy. They also volunteer, contribute to Australia’s cultural diversity and enhance our international standing.

This research helps illustrate the many different roles of international students. They are colleagues, friends, neighbours, tenants, customers, classmates and future world-leaders.

Many will also become future Australian citizens. Of 1.6 million international students who started their course between 2001 and 2014, 16% were granted permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship.

Student visa holders outside Australia

Department of Home Affairs figures show over 120,000 current student visa holders are outside Australia.

We estimate this translates into about 13,000 fewer people living in inner Melbourne due to travel restrictions. In places like Sydney’s city and inner south, this translates into 7,000 fewer people. In Adelaide’s Central and Hills region we estimate this means 5,000 fewer people.

These losses will grow as travels bans stop new international students replacing those who have finished their studies.

Every six months international students cannot enrol due to travel bans, between 110,000 to 140,000 won’t start their courses.


Read more: Australian universities could lose $19 billion in the next 3 years. Our economy will suffer with them


Problems with the international education sector will also affect Australian students. Domestic students share in the perspectives students from around the world bring into classrooms and the extra resources education institutions can afford because of them.

Early reports suggest more school leavers will choose to study at university because of an impending recession.

But while universities have capacity, there are currently funding caps which effectively limit the number of domestic students who can enrol.

Uncapping domestic university places will help ensure our universities can properly meet the needs of school leavers.


Read more: How universities came to rely on international students


Continuing to support international students will also be vital. International students are particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of the pandemic. As non-citizens they are ineligible to access Australian government supports such as JobKeeper.

Many have had to rely on support packages offered by universities and state governments.

It is important that Australia continues to support international students who are struggling. This will signal to current and future international students that Australia values them and the enormous contribution they make to our country.


Correction: this article previously said 1.6 million international students were granted permanent residency between 2001 and 2014. This has been corrected to say 16% of 1.6 million international students who started their course in those years were granted permanent residency.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 110,500 academics and researchers from 3,631 institutions.

Register now