Having gone through the long visa process to migrate to Australia, I lost count how many times I had to go to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website. I wanted to check for the hundredth time that I had all the documents required for my application, that my passport picture had the right dimensions, that I was neither smiling nor wearing sunglasses or a hat in it, and that the latest form that I had to complete had not been changed in the past 12 hours since I had last checked. But besides from the obvious stress that this long process encompassed, I learned some very interesting facts on the way and it helped me gain some perspective about what it means to live and work in this country.
According to the Government’s statistics 7.2 million people have migrated to Australia since the end of World War II and today one in four of the country’s 22 million people were born outside of Australia. Even though these numbers jump out of the page on their own, my first reaction was to try to put this figure in perspective by comparing it to a country that has been called the “Melting Pot” and the Mixing Bowl of the world for decades, the United States. In that country the percentage of immigrants is 13%. Surely that represents 40.4 million of the 311.6 million inhabitants; a lot more than the 5 million in Australia. But if you think about it, Australia has proportionately twice as many immigrants as the United States. So what does that mean for the Land of Oz?
Historically we could attribute the big waves of immigration to colonisation, the gold rush or World War II when millions of people fled tragedy from their home countries. However, nowadays with the world becoming more and more globalised, we are seeing a generation of young professionals who want to live overseas seeking the opportunity of better study, to learn a new language, to learn from a new culture or to simply open their minds to another world. It is a wave of highly skilled or eager to learn young professionals with a lot of potential and a great deal to offer. In the case of Australia, this has been translated into hundreds of thousands of places available in the Migration Program -190 000 for last year to be more exact, out of which 3400 were allocated exclusively to Skilled immigrants, with the goal of satisfying the demand for particular jobs, from hair dressers and plumbers, to accountants, geologists and surgeons.
Meeting someone from an “exotic” country in Australia is not a novelty but practically an everyday thing and it is only normal to think that this rapid change in the demographics has had an enormous impact on the society and the work place is no exception. Companies in Australia can have as much as half of their staff come from a different country and some of them can even have people from as many as 30 or 40 different nationalities in one single office. Surely this cultural richness demands a high level of adaptability from both the new comers and those whose families have been in Australia since the First Fleet arrived in the 18th century. But far from being a downside to the business it brings along a higher level of creativity and diverse talents and skills which can translate into higher productivity, better problem solving capacities and a stronger sensitivity to the needs of a client or a customer.
Multiculturalism should therefore not only be accepted but fully embraced as an advantage that can help a company prosper and set itself apart from the competition. Additionally, it can allow you to travel from the comfort of your desk chair, as all you have to do is talk to your colleagues in the office to learn from places and traditions that you had never imagined, hence allowing you to peek out the window to a whole different world without even having to grab your passport.
Maria Thring – Consultant