The scale and mode of emigration of Greek people to Australia during the economic crisis of Greece bears both critical similarities to and differences from other Greek emigrant destination countries. Similar to most Greek migration destinations there was a steep increase of migration flows to Australia in the past decade. By 2017, based on Australian immigration and census data, an estimated 11,000 new Greek migrants - including both Greek citizens and Australian citizens of Greek descent - were living in Australia (Field-Theotokatos, 2019). This number, however, sharply contrasts with the highly exaggerated earlier estimates of 80,000 arrivals (Tamis 2014). It is also much more modest when compared to European Union destinations such as Germany and the UK, that together attracted more than half of the recent emigration wave (Labrianidis and Pratsinakis, 2016).
In addition, post-2010 Greek emigration to Australia shares certain legal and sociological commonalities with traditional post-World War II Greek emigrant destinations (EU and non EU). Similar to countries such as USA and Germany, certain Greek migrants in Australia had dual citizenship and thus were citizens of the country they 'returned to'. However, the majority of migrants who did not possess dual citizenship and travelled to Australia under visas faced more restrictions and challenges in their settlement process, especially when compared to those who went to EU countries under the freedom of movement of labour.
The Greece-born population in Australia peaked at 160,000 in 1971. After this period there was a steady decline because of emigration to Greece of Greece-born and Greek descent persons, encouraged by the improving economic conditions there from the mid 1980s onwards, which conversely reduced arrivals from Greece to Australia. Consequently, by 2011 the Greece-born population had shrunk to 99,938 and by 2016 to 93,740. This trend shows that the new Greek emigration to Australia did not reverse the Greece-born population decline but slowed it. The current median age of the Greece-born population in Australia is over 70 years old - an aged community.
The defining experience of the post-2010 Greek emigrants in Australia is the clear dichotomy of migration experiences and outcomes between the legal, economic, social and psychological permanence of the Greek persons with Australian citizenship and permanent residence, and that of temporariness of the Greek citizens who overwhelmingly travelled on temporary visas. The initial wave of arrivals were mostly Greek persons with Australian citizenship and permanent residence, mostly comprised of family units. Despite facing various re-settlement challenges in employment, housing, education for their children and psychological re-adjustment, their citizenship status was a crucial factor in facilitating quickly the conditions for achieving positive settlement outcomes.
The majority of Greek citizens who did not possess Australian citizenship travelled to Australia under its temporary migration programme. This was because visa approval under Australia’s permanent migration programme can take up to 12 months, is complex and costly, and did not meet the urgent need of Greek citizens for emigration during the years of economic crisis in Greece. Under Australia’s temporary migration programme there are a range of visa categories whereby visitors can also test their emigration options, offering immediate access to the country, generally at a very low cost, i.e., AUD20 for an electronic visitor visa issued within 24 to 48 hours. Temporary visa holders who want to remain in Australia long-term or permanently have to apply for various visa categories and subclasses.
From 2010-11 to 2016-17, only 2,866 permanent residence places were allocated to Greek citizens, dominated by the family reunion (75.4%) component, with the remainder under the skilled component. In the same period, 60,769 Greek citizens were granted Australian temporary visas, of which 53,395 were short-term (3 month) visitor visas (87.9%), which do not allow their holders to work in Australia. The remainder were granted temporary long-term visas (over 12 month). The estimated number of Greek citizens who travelled to Australia in this period was approximately 57,000 persons. The most common approach taken by the Greek citizen visitor visa holders to test their emigration options in Australia was/is to stay with friends and relatives in Australia. In doing so, they faced considerable challenges in the assessment and recognition of their qualifications, work experience, in employment, and financial and psychological hardship, as they had to rely on their savings until they could get a long-term visa and employment (Pronia, 2014).
During their stay as visitors, which could be extended up to 12 months, the Greek citizens adopted a long-term emigration strategy based on two main pathways. Most of them obtained student long-term temporary visas (4,069 grants), for which they applied while they were in Australia (76.7%), mostly for vocational education and training (VET) education (92%). Student visas provided the opportunity for part-time employment and hence to earn income and acquire work experience; they covered immediate family members, and were a pathway to obtaining permanent residence, the ultimate goal of many international students in Australia. This option was pursued primarily by persons who had a good knowledge of the English language, were more educated and had better pre-migration preparation.
The second pathway was that of obtaining Temporary Work (Skilled) visa 457 (1,353 grants), which was abolished and replaced by a stricter version in March 2018. One of the great appeals of the 457 visa was that holders who worked full-time for two years with a sponsoring employer could then apply for permanent residence, requiring again the employer’s sponsorship, and acquire permanent residence within two years. This option was primarily pursued by persons who wanted to have a direct involvement in the labour market, and with more variable educational and linguistic qualifications and experiences that those who chose student visas. In particular industries, such as construction, hospitality and retail, and among small businesses, it was not uncommon for 457 and student visa holders to be exploited by their employer, and there have been such reported instances by Greek owned businesses.
Overall, for most of the post-2010 Greek citizen emigrants living in Australia who did not possess Australian citizenship, temporariness has been and remains a defining experience. It is a more complex, contingent and insecure personal and group experience of emigration and settlement, requiring a very strong sense of hope, courage, imagination, initiative, determination, resilience, learning and adapting quickly to the demands of a new labour market, society and changing bureaucratic regulations, and a fair deal of luck as success is far from guaranteed.
Field-Theotokatos, H. (2019). ‘New temporariness, old permanency. Emigration of Greek citizens to Australia during the Greek economic crisis (2009-2016)’ in SEESOX Diaspora Working Paper Series, No. 3: 1-29.
Labrianidis, L. and Pratsinakis, M. (May 2016). “Greece’s New Emigration at Times of Crisis”, Hellenic Observatory Papers on Greece and Southeast Europe, GreeSE paper 99. The London School of Economics and Political Science: Pp.1-38.
Pronia (formerly Australian Greek Welfare Society). (2014). The Journey of New Greek Migrants to Australia: Opportunities and Challenges, Melbourne. Retrieved on 2018, August 24 from: https://www.pronia.com.au/site/assets/files/1181/the_journey_of_new_greek_migrants_to_australia_-_english.pdf
Tamis, A. (2014). ‘Repatriation of Greek-Australians and Emigration of Greece-born in Australian (2009-2013)’. In: Damanakis, M., Konstantinidis, S. and Tamis. A. (eds.), New Migration to and from Greece, Rethymnon: University of Crete, pp. 139-177. [in Greek]