Chapter Six - Repatriation and related concerns
One of the enduring features of all diaspora is return migration to the
This chapter examines the following issues:
- do expatriates want to return to Australia? And
- should there be assistance for repatriates?; and
- realities of expatriation.
Do expatriates want to return to Australia?
And will they?
The Hugo survey showed that, overall,
half the respondents expressed an intention to return to Australia
at some stage; a third of the remainder were undecided. Respondents in the US
and Canada were the least likely to come back; the most likely to return were
those based in Asia, with over 60 per cent stating their intention to do so.
Young expatriates were more likely to express an intention to return than their
A considerable number of the submitters to this inquiry
were ambivalent about returning to Australia.
As Mr Mark
Gough told the Committee, 'I want the
lifestyle, the weather, my family' but he had to weigh that against the 'breath
of fresh air that is the international work arena'.
Of the large number of submitters who indicated they
expected to return to Australia
at some time in the future, lifestyle and family reasons predominated. As Mr
told the Committee, 'The Australian lifestyle and climate will eventually bring
me back, probably when we decide to start a family'. Ms Rachel
Matthews was another to nominate the start
of her family as the likely time she would return; while Ms
echoed the widely held belief that Australia
was a better place to raise a family.
In evidence to the Committee, Ms
of Advance stated:
... anecdotally it does appear that the decision to return is
often not career based. Particularly for people in the United States, it is
most unlikely that a superior role – certainly in the income sense – will be
what they are coming to here. It would be very rare for people to be returning
to a high-income bracket. Certainly the children and partner decision-making is
key ... a key opportunity for the Australian government, if it wants to get
people to return, is the hook of grandparents, the beautiful lifestyle and the
As Professor Hugo
pointed out, and as many submissions corroborated, a significant barrier to
return for many was the circumstances of their partner. Given the preponderance
of persons between the ages of 24 and 39 leaving Australia for extended stays,
partnering overseas with an overseas national must be regarded as a distinct possibility.
In the Hugo survey, of those respondents with a spouse or
partner, only 30.6 per cent of the spouse/partners were Australian-born.
Respondents with spouses born overseas were not as likely to return to Australia
as those with Australian-born spouses. Respondents whose spouses held
Australian citizenship (68.6 per cent) or dual citizenship (55 per cent) were
the most likely to have plans to return to Australia.
Respondents to the Hugo survey who
stated they intended to return to Australia
to live overwhelmingly gave two reasons for doing so: lifestyle (82.9 per cent)
and family (71.5 per cent).
The Hugo survey respondents who were
undecided about returning to Australia
or who did not intend to do so included the following reasons for their decision:
Table 6.1 Reasons given for decision not to
return to Australia
Established in current
Higher income overseas
Lifestyle more attractive
Emigration Survey 2002
noted that the age of respondents to his survey appeared to be a major
determinant of intention to return. Older respondents were less likely to want
to return than were the younger ones.
This was not entirely supported by submitters
to this inquiry. Of those who addressed the matter, there was considerable
support for a return to Australia
in retirement, at whatever monetary cost in terms of lost or reduced
superannuation entitlements or taxation challenges.
There were other life points at which a return to Australia
was likely, according to the submissions received. As noted above, starting or
bringing up a family in Australia
was a popular choice.
Assistance for repatriation?
In Chapter 9, the Committee considers the various
federal and state schemes for inducing highly skilled expatriates in specific
disciplines to return to Australia.
In the Committee's view, they are clearly in Australia's
interests and should be supported, at federal, state and local level, as
circumstances dictate. The Committee does not support untargeted schemes to
induce other expatriates to return.
Nelsen, who has studied the public policy
implications of return migration, canvassed the possible government options for
encouraging return migration, including staying in touch with expatriates and
offering incentives such as covering travel costs and tax relief on business start-up. Other submitters suggested that expatriates
should be offered tax breaks and
housing assistance to entice them to return. The Committee does not support
Evidence suggests that about half our expatriates will
return to Australia
at some stage. The Committee notes the view offered by Mr Timothy Heslen in his
study of return migration, that 'the Australian diaspora is more likely to
return of its own accord rather than having any kind of forcing from government
policies'. Expatriates will
probably return at particular points in their life cycles, for example, to
start a family, to educate children, or to retire. In addition there are
late-career repatriates, enticed by the various inducements on offer and there
are an unknown number of impromptu repatriations, necessitated by family or
other crises. The Australian lifestyle and family-related matters which will
draw them back are largely matters over which the Federal Government has little
Realities of repatriation
The Committee notes that those returning to Australia
had mixed repatriation experiences. Mr John
Werry from VEN recounted the following
... one of our colleagues used to work in Brussels
and recently came back to Australia
to work in our department. He spent a year engineering his return. By using
some of our government departments and working through the Victorian Expatriate
Network, he ... reconnected himself into the Victorian professional community
in health care and micro and nanotechnologies. He returned and seems to have
very few problems, and he thoroughly recommends that as a way of approaching it – spending some time while you are over there reconnecting yourself so that it
is a smooth transition.
The Committee was unable to pinpoint the proportion of
repatriates who experienced problems on resettlement. It is possible that many
who have slotted comfortably back into life in Australia
did not have the inclination to make a submission to the Committee's inquiry.
As Ms Anne
MacGregor indicated, the SCG also probably
heard more from the people who were unhappy.
Yet the picture most frequently received
by the Committee was that of repatriation difficulties:
Repatriation is a major life transition that is complex and
inherently stressful. Relocation in general (whether as an Expatriate or as a
Repatriate) has been shown to be one of the top ten causes of stress and
Repatriates often go through what is known as "reverse culture
shock", experiencing feelings such as confusion, anxiety and alienation.
Most support groups attribute the difficulties faced by
repatriates to a generally hostile stay-at-home population, resentful of the
repatriates' success (if achieved), unreceptive to their travellers' tales, and
unwilling to respond positively to suggestions as to how things might be done
differently. While undoubtedly there is an element of truth in this, recent
research commissioned by the Lowy Institute for International Policy has shown
Australians are growing sanguine about their fellow countrymen who have chosen
to go overseas. Some 91 per cent of those surveyed considered expatriates to be
adventurous people prepared to try their luck overseas; only 10 per cent felt
they had let their fellow Australians down by leaving Australia. And the attitude of the younger generation
was significantly more positively inclined towards expatriates than were their
seniors. Some 73 per cent of respondents under the age of 30 considered
long-term expatriates to be 'real' Australians, while only 38 per cent of
respondents over the age of 65 did so.
Rawson, a self-described 'serial
expatriate', stated that hostility towards expatriates was once common:
Many expat Australians complain that they feel stay-at-home
Aussies perceive them as disloyal for having left home to live and work abroad.
This parochial attitude once existed – I remember Joan
Sutherland being challenged on TV in this
vein - but I think it is on the wane now.
While outright hostility may be a thing of the past,
community indifference or lack of understanding of the repatriates' situation
appears to be still prevalent. The solution Ms
Rawson found was the following:
I learnt early that I must accept responsibility for fostering
relationships at home. Most of my friends and former colleagues have limited
interest in hearing of my experiences abroad. Luckily, I’m glad to catch up
with their news and don’t feel the need for them to reciprocate in equal
measure. This attitude seems to be the key to easy reintegration.
The Committee notes that modern communication
technology and the growth of the Internet is making it increasingly easier for
expatriates to maintain links whilst living overseas, which in turn is likely
to improve their experience on repatriation.
The single most disheartening experience of
repatriation for some was the difficulty in finding employment back in Australia.
Farrelly told the Committee that:
Australian industries just do not recognise or value ...
Or as Dr Rowan
Gilmore, himself a repatriate, put it:
... from the expatriates' point of view, it is a case of managing
expectations. After [they] get over [culture] shock and the shock of the tax
system and the shock of salaries, expats come back with a pretty powerful
looking resume that often does not count for a whole bunch because of the
Australian culture, to a certain extent ... The biggest problem in repatriating
is the lack of networks and the lack of intimate knowledge of the system in Australia.
Now back overseas, Ms
reflected on her repatriation attempt. She was fortunate enough that her old
job was held open for her for 18 months while she was away, but on her return
she found that the position had changed and that she had grown, and after her
international experience she found the job 'stifling', managers without
overseas experience found her presence 'threatening', and never called on her
new skills. Not surprisingly, she moved on.
One repatriate support group, the Melbourne
International Social Group, told the Committee that about 70 per cent of its
300 members were unemployed:
These are all professional people who have many years of
experience, both in Australia
and overseas. There are many of them who have been struggling to find jobs for
well over a year ... there is something wrong – whether it is with our culture
or our structures – such that we have this wasted human and intellectual
capital, who are desperate to find jobs and desperate to contribute to
Australia but who are finding that they are simply not valued.
Surtees questioned whether it was the
recruitment process that was at fault, asking whether recruitment agencies
regarded international experience as effectively 'a gap in a resume which is
otherwise hitherto unexplained'. Even
those who were successful in finding work were often disappointed in the job
they found, as it so rarely provided an opportunity to make use of their range
of skills and experience.
About half the jobs advertised in Australia
are now advertised online. The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations
runs an online job databank, which
should provide expatriates with a reasonable overview of the opportunities
available. Linking expatriates, and particularly expatriates with more
entrepreneurial skills, with appropriate work opportunities in Australia
could obviously be assisted through specifically targeted networks.
The Committee notes the view that the most important
step for any expatriate intending to return at some stage, but most
particularly during working years, is to foster and maintain connections with
the homeland. Maintaining connections with alumni groups, and with professional
and industry associations, is much easier these days via the Internet. While
networks can probably go only a short way towards preparing expatriates for the
culture shocks they may experience on their return, they certainly should be
able to offer an increasing amount of help in finding work, accommodation and
general information about services.
While there are commonalities amongst repatriates in
the repatriation experience, there are also major differences, depending in
part on the reasons for the repatriation, the length of time away and the
degree of connection maintained with Australia
during the expatriation period. It seems to the Committee that, having tasted
the advantages of an overseas lifestyle and weighed that up against the family
and lifestyle opportunities here, many expatriates and repatriates will live
out their lives tinged with mild regret that they cannot be in two places at
The Committee is surprised at the level of
disappointment of many repatriates concerning the job opportunities available
to them on their return to Australia.
Many of them left Australia
precisely because of the greater employment opportunities on the world stage,
the higher incomes, the greater job satisfaction, or the enhanced career
opportunities. Even if they have returned to Australia,
as many undoubtedly have, with more experience, enhanced skills, better
contacts, and greater cross-cultural understanding, this does not necessarily
mean that openings will have developed in Australia
in their absence.
The Committee notes that non-government groups have
sprung up to support expatriates, to assist them to settle in to overseas
locations, and to provide socialisation opportunities. The Committee also notes
that organisations such as the Melbourne International Social Group have
started up in Australia
to help repatriates, and expects that similar groups will develop. In addition,
a number of companies offer services on a commercial basis to assist those