Nepali diaspora in AustraliaI have come to Australia five times and lived with my children in Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney for a total of 34 months, spread over a period of 18 years.
I have come to Australia five times and lived with my children in Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney for a total of 34 months, spread over a period of 18 years. I have attended innumerable dinners, many ceremonial functions and two workshops. Based on my interaction and observation of these events and discussions with residents, I am making some generalisations in this feature..
It is estimated that there are more than a quarter million Nepali migrants in Australia. Australia has a rigid migration policy in which there is little room for unskilled labourers. So only two kinds of migrants come here. The first category consists of technical personnel and other professionals who meet the Australian standard of qualification. They come here as permanent residents (PR). PRs are entitled to almost every right in Australia, but they cannot enjoy political participation until they acquire Australian citizenship, for which they become eligible after two years of stay. Citizenship opens access to some other entitlements as well, like health care, scholarships, etc.
The second category of migrants consists of students in higher education. These are temporary residents (TR) who can try to become PRs after successfully completing their degree. Those who meet the required qualification can be become permanent residents because of the required human resources with those specific skills. A significant number of people have managed to become PRs this way. Students usually have part-time jobs to extend their stay here. They risk losing their TR status if they are caught getting involved in academic cheating. There is a third category of TRs, who are dependants of other TR students. Overall, a significant number of Nepalis are temporary residents.
The lucky and the not-so-lucky
Nepalis in the first category have jobs that are compatible with their respective qualifications. Whether in the government or the private sector or even on their own, the they are the most established ones. They rank on a par with native professionals. Some in the academic field have successfully reached the post of professor in a relatively short period. But getting top administrative or management jobs, is quite hard.
Those in the second category are not so lucky. Most start or continue with work requiring supportive roles and try to find a more suitable job matching their qualifications. But eventually, even they generally manage to get settled on a permanent basis. Those who accompany their spouses as dependants must make do with whatever is available, usually manual work.
Economically, the first category migrants are in a good position. A large proportion of those who come as PRs have attained Australian citizenship. Almost every migrant in this category owns a private house and motor vehicles. Their children get a good education, assuring them a good future. The new generation that have gone to school here have even mastered the Australian accent. It is relatively easy for them to integrate into Australian society.
There is a large concentration of Nepalis in big cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. There are a few Nepali families that interact frequently at dinners, cultural functions and national occasions. Beyond that, they have two types of organisations. The first is the Nepali Association of a state, city or even suburb. For example, there is a ‘Nepalese Association of Queensland’ and a ‘Nepali Community of West Sydney’. Then there is the country-wide and state-wide organisation ‘Non-Resident Nepalese’. These organisations have their regular agenda, but they also get active to provide help during a crisis in Nepal. Their ‘helping Nepal’ programme includes SKI (skill, knowledge and innovation). This is intended as a technical support to effect targeted changes in Nepal.
Dilution of Nepali values
There is a strong bond among the Nepalis in their respective locations, which helps forge a common identity. Among the first generation Nepalis in particular, there is also a strong bond with the home country. This is reflected in their frequent visits to Nepal during festivals or vacations. There is a preference to seek sons-in-law or daughters-in-law from Nepal to maintain the native culture. But these preferences are not as strong for the second generation, among whom there is a growing trend of seeking life partners from non-Nepali communities. While this dilutes the Nepali identity, it has the bright side of easier integration with the multi-ethnic Australian society. This factor is stimulated in the new generation through common education and participation in the Australian social milieu. The first generation, in general, has not achieved full integration, partly because they do not speak English with an Australian accent and partly because they are less willing to compromise social values, beliefs and behavioural patterns.
One fundamental change I have noted is the lack of touch of the new generation with Nepali values and beliefs. They speak English as their native language but hesitate to express themselves in Nepali. This may gradually lead to a loss of identity. Integration into the native society starts at the school stage and is strengthened by the interactions and friendships among the students. This has shown results. For example, Nepali children are invited to the birthday parties of their Australian friends. Some friendships have grown into romantic relationships and eventually marriage.
A Nepali as Australian PM
Voting is compulsory in Australia and the Nepalis who have become citizens here are active participants, with some of them even canvassing for votes for the candidates of their choice. But no Nepali person has stood for council, state and federal level elections yet. This does not mean that there is no interest in state affairs. The Nepalis are among the most politically conscious ethnic groups. Perhaps it is not quite time yet for them to show more political participation.
Sociological studies of past migration patterns suggest that the third or fourth generation of immigrants want more active roles in the new society. Thus the third-generation Nepalis will likely have enough motivation for political participation. We can even dream that some of the fourth generation Nepalis will emerge as Australian national heroes. If a Japanese migrant can become the prime minister of Peru, there is no reason why a dedicated Nepali of the fourth generation cannot become an Australian prime minister.
Sharma is a political analyst