India born fastest-growing migrant group in Australia

An increase of 220,000, or 47.9% per cent, since 2016.

The first set of data from the 2021 census has been released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and it shows that in 2021 more than 600,000 residents were born in India.

Australia’s national population grew by about two million people to 25.4 million since the last census. In this surge, India-born people have now overtaken people born in China (excluding SARs* and Taiwan) and New Zealand. The most common country of birth still remains Australia, followed by England.

673,352 people living in Australia have reported India as their country of birth. This is an increase of 220,000, or 47.9% per cent, since 2016.

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ABS Census 2021.
Indian Australian family: Image Source: @CANVA
Indian Australian family: Image Source: @CANVA

This census took place in August 2021, during the height of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns. According to the census, more than a million new migrants have arrived in Australia since 2017; but about 80% of them arrived before the pandemic.

David Gruen, the Chief Statistician of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, told the media:

“The census was conducted at an unprecedented time in Australia’s history and provides a unique snapshot of the population during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is different from previous censuses.”

Australia has been fast emerging as a popular destination for skilled Indians, especially from IT and engineering backgrounds. Dr Michiel Baas, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, points this surge to the long history of Indian migration as well as the result of Indian student migration to Australia. He says:

“This started picking up pace from 2004 onwards… and reached its zenith in 2009. The reason Australia became a popular destination for Indian students was the possibility to obtain a PR after graduation. This group has now matured and many have started families. Those who graduated around 2009 were in their early twenties and thus now in their mid-thirties.”

Rath Yatra (Amit Sarwal – Facebook)

Dr Yadu Singh, Secretary and spokesperson Federation of Indian Associations of NSW, says that the population data from the latest census once again shows that Australia continues to be an attractive place for migrants from India and South Asia. He adds:

“With increasing numbers of migrants from Hindu-majority nations like India and Nepal, it is not surprising to see the growth of migrants from the Hinduism faith (2.7% of the Australian population now, which is an increment of 55% in the last 5 years).

Dr Singh further emphasizes the need for “effective and collaborative community organizations representing and helping the social and cultural needs of various national groups.” He says:

“There is a need for a pan-South Asian organization to look after the political needs and aspirations of these communities. All of us from South Asian backgrounds can and should work together as our issues are indeed similar. It is imperative for the South Asian communities to evolve into a collaborative, loosely representative, and inclusive block in order to achieve our well-deserved and realistic representation in the politics of Australia.”

ABS Census 2021.

The second-largest increase in the country of birth was Nepal which is now the 11th most common nationality in Australia. Nepal saw an increase of 123.7% thus bringing the total Nepalese population to 122,506 in Australia.

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Dr Hemant Ojha, Associate Professor, University of Canberra, says that South Asian migrants in Australia are becoming stronger with such great rates of growth. This is also creating new opportunities for “promoting shared culture and identity in Australia.” Given the positive increase in numbers, Dr Ojha suggests:

“South Asian diaspora groups in Australia can also interact more closely through the myriad of community organizations to advance their common identities as well as to create a new cultural group in their new homeland. South Asian diaspora can also reshape the cooperation between Australia and South Asian nations in the spheres of technology, trade, education, and development. To what extent these possibilities will be materialized will only be clear with the passage of time.”

This surge in migrants has also helped in increasing religious diversity in Australia. The ABS data also reveals that around 684,000 people in Australia, or 2.7 per cent of the population, identify with Hinduism. This is an increase of 55 per cent over the past five years, reflecting an influx of migrants from countries such as India and Nepal.

Indian Australian family: Image Source: @CANVA
Indian Australian family: Image Source: @CANVA

The number of people who identify with Sikhism in Australia is 210,400 accounting for 0.8 per cent. Victoria has the highest number of Sikhs at 91,745. Further, around 813,000 people in Australia identify with Islam. Its share of the national population has grown to 3.2 per cent, up from 2.6 per cent in the 2016 census.

ABS reports that the proportion of people answering the census questions rose from 91 per cent in 2016 to 93 per cent in 2021. Data will continue to be released until mid-2023.

*Special administrative regions (SAR) of China which include Hong Kong and Macau.