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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Business, Law and Governance

Publish Date

13 December 2022

Self-initiated expatriates

JCU Singapore’s Professor Eddy Ng is a visiting academic from Canada who helps early career researchers develop their skills and investigates diversity in the Australian workplace. This International Migrants Day (18 December), Ed tells us why it makes a huge difference that skilled migrants are encouraged to integrate and not to assimilate.

Australia is a magnet for highly skilled migrants from around the world, with more than 140,000 skilled workers expected to arrive in Australia before the end of June 2023.  Expatriates are sent by their employers overseas for a short time. Skilled migrants, or ‘self-initiated expatriates’, however, have made the decision to move themselves, and they still need to find employment in Australia.

“These people are highly skilled, highly educated, often with a post-graduate degree,” Ed says. “They are moving to the host country, such as Australia, with the intent of professional employment, and to settle there permanently.”

Enticed by Australia’s fresh air

Traditionally, the United States have been a magnet for migrants looking to find a better life for themselves and their families. But Australia is also a popular destination. “Migrants generally move from a developing nation to Australia, because Australia offers an abundance of opportunities for their careers, economic prosperity, but more importantly, economic stability,” Ed says.

“Increasingly, however, we find people who make a move for environmental reasons,” Ed says. “Australia is a huge country and has relatively good environmental conditions. So, if you're from India, for instance, where there is a lot of pollution, you might find this surely to be — pun intended — a breath of fresh air.”

Professor Ed Ng.
Team discussion.
Professor Ed Ng (left), a multicultural team (right)

Finding one’s way around the Australian workplace

“The government brings in migrants because there are not enough skilled workers in Australia, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘Great Resignation’, that motivated people to retire early,” Ed says. “But the government cannot legislate businesses to be friendly to migrants. That has to be done within the organisation.”

What happens at the workplace makes a major difference for the newly arrived skilled migrants and their self-esteem. After all, they need to learn the written and unwritten rules of the Australian workplace, especially if English is a second or third language to them.

“The best way forward is to actively manage this, to be proactive and create a climate of inclusion. If you don't have a positive climate, people will just leave the organisation,” Ed says and adds it can be costly for a company if they need to start recruiting again.

Ed and his colleagues have found that top executives, the CEO, the co-workers, and the line manager all contribute to self-efficacy among migrant workers — the feeling that they are as successful in their work in Australia as they were in their home country.

Employees, no matter where they are from, want to be a genuine part of the team. “If your colleagues or the line manager ask you, ‘what do you think about how we should solve this problem?’, for example, people feel included,” Ed says.  “They feel that their opinion is valued. So, there's this notion of access to influence and being able to participate in decision making. Those are key to feeling included.”

Integration not assimilation

Ed and his colleagues also researched the potential benefits for migrants connecting with other people from their home country. “People connecting with their ethnic communities are able to preserve the culture and yet interact with the wider Australian community,” Ed says. “They bring different cultures and perspectives to Australia and, vice versa, they bring Australian culture into the ethnic enclaves.”

This is only possible because the government of Australia does not encourage migrants to leave their ethnic identity behind. “The government is not asking for assimilation, but for integration,” Ed says.

“They want migrants to preserve their own culture, because from a small-country perspective, Australia relies on trading with the world to prosper. After all, migrants to Australia speak multiple languages and have cultural competences. They become natural trade links with their countries of origin.”

Working in a multicultural team.

Citizenship is personal

Per capita, more migrants are also willing to become Australian than American citizens, because Australia does not ask future citizens to give up existing citizenships. “A lot of people immigrate to the United States but don't take up American citizenship for a host of reasons. Citizenship is very personal. It's like religion”, Ed says.

For instance, between 2021 and 2022, a total of 167,232 people became Australian citizens, with the majority coming from India, the United Kingdom and the Philippines.

“Citizenship is an emotional bond that is hard to break. In the United States, people are less willing to do that. If you are unable to break the emotional ties with your country of origin, you may not be as committed to your host country,” Ed says.

“So psychologically, if you have taken up citizenship, you switch your frame of reference. It’s very symbolic. Psychologically it means, ‘I'm going to get to know my Australian neighbours better. I'm an Australian now.”

Citizenship has other positive effects as well. “People who become citizens integrate better,” Ed says. “They seek out other Australians, and in the act of doing so, it strengthens their networks, it improves their English, and they also learn the Australian way of doing things.”

Training researchers at JCU Singapore

Skilled migration to Australia is only one of the topics that Ed, who is a Canadian born in Singapore, is interested in. Ed currently works as a Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Queen’s University in Canada and is a visiting Professor at JCU Singapore. With ten years of experience in writing research papers and about 8,700 citations, Ed helps JCU researchers to get started with their own careers.

“For JCU Singapore, I do workshops with early career researchers and doctoral students, for example, about how to get published, or about the research process, and research topics that are of interest,” Ed says. He adds that his appointment contributes to a strong research culture at JCU Singapore, which led to the AACSB business accreditation, which is an important certification for business degrees worldwide.

The future: Researching migrant underemployment

When it comes to future projects, Ed and his colleagues are still interested in international skilled migration to Australia. “We track a lot of migrants. They come here highly skilled, better educated and better trained than native born Australians. Despite this, it takes them longer to find employment or they are often under employed,” he says. Ed hopes that not only future employers, but also those that will be migrating to Australia in the years to come, will benefit from the research outcomes.

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