At first, it might be surprising to consider Australia and Latin America as two connected parts of the world. Indeed, until recently, it was common in Australia to consider Latin America as too remote and politically irrelevant to warrant serious attention. And yet, over the past few years, Australia’s fascination and interest in Latin America and vice versa has increased like never before, not only in terms of business opportunities, but also in regard to food, music, dance and other forms of popular culture. Therefore, the migration and integration of the Latin American community Down Under deserves a proper discussion in light of the growing mutual interest between these two distinct regions of the globe.
Migration and economic integration in Australia
The Latino integration process in the past 40 years has operated at two speeds. The first wave of Latino immigrants who arrived before the mid-1990s integrated rather slowly. They had to negotiate a new language and fight for the recognition of their members’ work experience and qualifications obtained abroad; many had to follow an integration path that began in factories performing manual labor, which allowed them to begin climbing the economic and social ladder.
The second Latino migrant wave, which began in 1998, is integrating faster than the first. Language skills and recognition of qualifications are no longer the major barriers they once were. This can be attributed to the first wave of Latinos smoothing the path for recognition of overseas qualifications, but also to the fact that most recent arrivals possess qualifications gained as international students, often at Australian institutions, giving them a clear advantage over the first wave. This new wave of arrivals is not about to stop in the 21st century, and the evolution of people born overseas in the main countries of Latin America from 2011 to 2016 makes that crystal clear.
For the first wave of Latino migrants, unstable political and economic conditions in their home countries encouraged them to resettle in Australia. As a result, many became active participants in the political, economic and academic life of their new country. At first, during the 1970s and 1980s, they were seen as outsiders, largely staying within their own migrant communities—but as time went on they integrated more rapidly, and from the mid-1990s onwards the first wave migrants had integrated almost completely, while still maintaining their rich cultural heritage. In terms of labour force participation, migrants from the vast majority of Latino nations that have settled in Australia participate at a rate higher than the OECD average—Columbians, Venezuelans and Brazilians are among the most active participants in Australia’s labour force out of all Latino migrants in Australia.
Second-wave migrants haven’t experienced an entirely smooth ride down the road to integration either—they have also had to overcome obstacles. The new and highly qualified Latino communities have to reassert their credentials in the local employment market; they also need to develop social support networks that help to ease their political, economic, and social integration into Australia, which can be done in several ways.
For instance, the speed of settlement of Latinos into Australia can be assisted by increasing the knowledge and understanding of Latin Americans about Australia, and of Australians about Latin America. Australia has the chance to develop its understanding of the Latin American people by looking at the aspirations and motivations of the existing Latino community in Australia—an opportunity that should be seized by local governments, as well as community members.
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Australia and Latin America in a Global Era, Elizabeth Kath
A Tale of Two Waves: Latin American Migration to Australia, Urribarri, Raul Sanchez (et al.)
Australia and Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities in the New Millennium, Latinos in Australia, Australia National University