The reopening of Australia’s borders to international students after the pandemic has triggered an exodus from Bhutan, as young people seek opportunities abroad amid growing economic problems and a lack of job opportunities. Bhutan’s youth unemployment rate remains over 20%.
Student migration to Australia from Bhutan has soared significantly in recent years. Bhutan and Australia do not have any official figures about the number of Bhutanese flying to Australia on a student visa or skilled migration or dependent visa, but one estimate from Bhutan’s foreign ministry in October 2021 was 15,000. The volume has staggeringly increased in 2022 and 2023.
Most of the recent arrivals have settled in Perth, Western Australia, where they have enrolled in childcare, hospitality and accounting courses. Not just the youths but people with stable jobs and good lifestyles tend to migrate to Australia. Many left senior government-level jobs to migrate to Australia in recent years.
Aside from a small humanitarian intake, migration from Bhutan to Australia had been negligible until 2017 when student arrivals started to pick up. That accelerated after the reopening of borders in Australia in 2022, with official data showing student visa applications from Bhutan jumping fivefold in the fiscal year that ended in June.
The influx of students in that short period has made Australia home to one of the largest communities of Bhutanese expatriates outside of South Asia.
Six of Bhutan’s current 9 cabinet ministers studied in an Australian university or institute.