Multicultural mirage: visa holders’ real lives


Dalena Nguyen

Australia’s current migration system treats people without dignity argue members of Democracy in Colour (Image: Dalena Nguyen)

Almost a third of Australia’s population was born overseas making it a top ten migration country relative to population, yet Australia’s visa backlog reveals a system placing immense pressure on these new community members.

At the 2022 Jobs and Skills Summit, held in September, the Australian Government committed to providing $36.1 million to accelerate visa processing times in order to resolve hefty visa backlog issues.

The pre-summit dialogue bared the glaring and all-too-common attitude towards these issues which treats people as statistics and not as valued members of a multicultural society.

The Australian Workers Union would propose that employers must train one “local” worker for every skilled migrant. Other union representatives explained that domestic skills need development, and that skilled migration is a “necessary evil, not a default option”, according to the Australian Financial Review.

The hesitancy and “only if we must” attitude directed at the concept of migration is hardly new, yet it is perpetuated in such settings, despite the skills shortage in almost every sector, and the vocalised fear employers have for losing talent to other countries, due to the backlog.

However, the “talent” and statistics being described in Australia’s political dialogue are multidimensional people that live lives outside of the summit outcome PDFs. These are their stories revealing Australia’s visa system in need of reform.

Yugo’s story

Yugo Ota at Adelaide Zoo
Yugo Ota at Adelaide Zoo (image supplied)

Yugo Ota is currently in the process of obtaining a working visa in Australia, after living, studying and working his whole life in Japan. His dreams of becoming a teacher of English as a second language inspired his decision to leave his country. Yugo says one of the main reasons for choosing Australia is its global image of diversity.

“There is no complete guide, and the visa processing fee is just one cost in applying for a visa.”

Yugo also detailed his shock at the visa backlog, and how lightly the Australian Government seems to be taking it.

With elderly parents the Aged Dependent Relative visa backlog is particularly important to Yugo. As of December 2022 this is “queued up to 31 July 2012” which means that people who applied in 2012 are still waiting and new applicants are warned of a potential 50-year assessment time as other visas are being prioritised under the current migration program. In 2022-23 only after the 195,000 places allocated to different visa schemes are filled will the aged relatives queue from 2012 start moving.

“For such a multinational country like Australia, I understand complications, but I feel like it should just be more flexible,” Yugo said.

Meeting and sharing the stories of those affected everyday by the issues that come with migrating is a step towards breaking Australia’s outdated belief in its welcoming multicultural system says Democracy in Colour community organiser, Joannie Lee.

“There are many reasons people decide to leave their countries and come to Australia, including war and persecution… it’s not as easy a decision as people think,” Joannie said.

Joannie explained that even once visas are approved, people, and especially people of colour, are faced with the next obstacle of finding secure work and achieving promotions.

“We need to make sure that the spaces where we bring people together continue to tackle the way we look at these hierarchies. This is so we don’t just perpetuate a system that doesn’t include the really relevant perspective and experiences in the workplace.”


Sam’s story

Sam is living in Australia after leaving India on a student visa, studying a Bachelor of nursing at University of Adelaide. She was keen to talk to Community Voices, but her visa situation meant she was hesitant to give her full name for publication. This inability to participate fully in civic life is one issue, another issue Sam detailed was resource inequity, which she said is one of the biggest hardships that comes with living on a visa

Sam detailed that while domestic students are paying just over $4000 a year to complete a BA of nursing, international students are paying an annual fee $13,000 for the same outcome and resources.

“I understand international students having to pay more, even double, I understand that. But more than three times?

“It’s like a bird jumping in the sea. You can fly really well, but you don’t know how to swim, but you’re in the sea now,” Sam said.

Sam also spoke about “the little things”, like getting used to bottled instead of fresh milk, adapting to the expenses of being vegetarian in Australia, the differences in social etiquette.

“You usually have your parents help through big changes in your life; but suddenly my fees are more expensive even though I have restrictions on how much I can work, and I have no guidance on opening up a bank account or anything like that,” Sam said.

However, Sam also said she remains excited about her future job opportunities, as she reaches the end of her degree.


Trisha’s story

Trisha was also hesitant to give her first name for publication. She first moved to Australia alone to finish her high school education, and then continued on into university. She said that despite Australia’s high percentage of visa holders and people born overseas, the people she meets are always shocked when they hear the circumstances of her life here on a visa.

“People think I’m studying in Australia just to get a [permanent residency], but at the end of the day, we’re achieving the same goals as people in life… it doesn’t really matter as long as we can all get by, right?” she said.

Trisha has plans to live and work in Australia indefinitely and is excited for the opportunities and communities she can participate in, once her busy work-school schedule settles down.

When speaking about Australia’s practiced routine of multiculturalism, City of Unley Cultural Development Coordinator, Matthew Ives, says it can be box-ticking instead of real engagement with people.

Matthew says he would prefer what he calls “interculturalism”, which engages with people’s different lived realities. This may be the next crucial step to breaking our dependency on an image of multiculturalism that doesn’t reflect reality.

Whether this starts with crushing false ideas of how our systems work, or simply acknowledging and utilising the power of having voting privileges in Australia, the future is up to us.

Editor’s note:

UniSA’s student journalism platform On The Record is collaborating with the Multicultural Communities Council of South Australia providing students with the opportunity to research, write and publish articles that are important to multicultural communities. These articles are co-published in the MCCSA quarterly publication Community Voices.