Effects of the pandemic on multicultural migrants in Australia

Since March 2020, Australia suffered so many ill-effects of the pandemic, from border shutdowns, unlimited lock downs, school and childcare shutdowns to job and business losses. While everyone living in Australia suffered, culturally and linguistically diverse Australian migrants were the most affected. Find out the effects of the pandemic on multicultural Australians below.

Never before have Australian migrants faced such emotionally tough times. On one side their jobs were affected and on the other side, they were unable to go to their respective countries or invite their family back home. Children that were born amidst the pandemic, not only missed out on opportunities to meet others in the community but also ended up not being able to see their own grandparents for almost 20 months.

Multicultural Australia

Australia is home to more than 300 ancestries and more than 200 spoken languages. In fact, about 21% of Australians reported speaking a language other than English at home. Owing to this, Australia can proudly call itself a multicultural nation, in more ways than one. From food to culture to languages to religions, there is a beautiful blend of nationalities, here in Australia.

I’ll effects of COVID-19 on Asian migrants

The stress and fear that COVID-19 has brought about, caused many Asian migrants to suffer overt racism and inequality. A survey conducted by Think tank per capita and the Asian Australian Alliance between April and June 2020 brought out some astonishing results. Nearly 400 people with Asian backgrounds responded to it and more than 35% cited racial abuse in the form of slurs or name-calling. Unfortunately, the pandemic has further deepened the seeds of inequality for millions of Asian migrants living in Australia. This is even more prominent in the temporary and migrant workers cohort, who are already suffering from insecure work.

If you support anti-racism and social equity in Australia, donate to All Together Now– Australia’s only anti-racism organisation.

Understanding the effects of the pandemic on CALD Australians

Social cohesion is a key driver of Australia’s success as a prosperous, diverse society.

Social cohesion highlights what we share and what keeps us together, as a society. Scanlon Foundation Research Institute has come up with an important report about what has kept Australia united throughout the years. Understanding the effect of social cohesion in Australia is more important than it has ever been before. The pandemic has brought us face to face with some of the greatest challenges of our lifetime, and multicultural Australians are facing the brunt of it. According to the report, almost 60% of Australians felt that Racism was a big problem in Australia, a jump of 20% from the previous years. To find out more, read this link.

The after effect of shut borders on CALD Australians:

Almost 1 in 3 Australian is born overseas. A large percentage of Australians still have one or more of their immediate family back in their respective countries. Australian borders were shut from March 2020 for non-Australian/non PR holders. This included immediate family as well.

So what did this mean for multicultural Australians? This meant so many CALD Australians didn’t get to see their aged family back home, many were unable to go and help their aged parents as they struggled with COVID-19, some couldn’t even be there for their parents funeral, many young children born during the pandemic were unable to experience the physical love and care of their grandparents. The more you learn about the emotional, mental and psychological consequences of the pandemic on Australians, the more your heart sinks. Australian immigration department held the final decision on whose exemption to travel would be granted. Mind you, these weren’t Australians who wanted to go abroad for a holiday, all they wanted was to go and support their family amidst the pandemic.

Parents are immediate family

Never before in the history of Australia have multicultural Australians felt the need to prove this fact- “Parents are immediate family”. With the international border shut for over 18 months, multicultural Australians started getting restless and uneasy. Culturally diverse Australians felt like they’re stuck in a locked country with no certainty of meeting family back home,effecting their mental health. This restlessness was the root cause of the petition named “Parents are immediate family” that went viral in late 2020. It was finally lodged in May 2021 here.

The petition mainly entailed that Australia is a multicultural country with many citizens and PR holders migrated from overseas- whose parents are living abroad. Australia’s post COVID border policy only allowed Australians and PR holders to enter Australia. Parents overseas were unable to be reunited with family because they are not classed as ‘immediate family’. The petition explained how important parents were to migrants living in Australia and not being able to meet them or even travel back home is affecting people.

Covid-19 has impacted Australian migrants financially and physically, however, the biggest impact was being apart from parents for an extended periods.

After months of online campaigning, a lobby group ‘Parents are Immediate Family’ was able to push for a petition. This petition was signed by more than 70,000 people. There was also a Facebook group created that has now attracted close to 8.5k followers.

The day arrived

On October 15th 2021, Australian PM announced that parents of Australian citizens and PR holders will be classed as ‘immediate family’ and can visit. This huge movement helped people understand the power of multicultural Australians and the effect of policies and rules on them.

Read more: Read more about this historical announcement here

How lock downs brought up ugly issues of racism

Many major cities in Australia like Sydney and Melbourne were in the news for the continuous lock downs. What also came up in the news was the ugly face of underlying racism that affected people living in certain areas. Amidst this COVID-19 outbreak, Gladys Berejiklian was under the radar for singling out three council areas in Sydney’s west for apparent health order breaches. While North Sydney residents were allowed to hang out at the beach, western Sydneysiders were fined for even taking a walk in their own neighbourhood. This was unequal treatment in broad daylight.

The Cumberland City councillor Kun Huang argued the police operation was harsher on the western suburbs in comparison with the affluent parts of Sydney.

“How come one rule applies for the northern suburbs and the eastern suburbs, and another rule applies to western Sydney?” he said.

The three most affected Sydney LGAs had one or both parents born overseas.The effected LGA’s were Blacktown, Bankstown and Fairfield.

Read more: Why western Sydney residents felt targeted amidst lock down

Effects on migrants livelihoods and small businesses

Australia’s small business industry is filled with migrants. In fact, small businesses contributed to almost 32% of Australia’s GDP in 2018-19. It came as no surprise that so many multicultural small businesses in Australia suffered as a result of COVID-19.

1/3 of small businesses in Australia are run by migrants, meaning there are almost 620,000 migrant-owned businesses across the country.

Australian migrants own small businesses in varied industries such as grocery, restaurants, medicine, acupuncture, education, community services and many more industries. They’re known to be very enterprising, resourceful and
resilient. Because of the nature of the way migrants run their small businesses, they suffered maximum losses in the pandemic. Most of their businesses required face-to-face interaction and community-based activities. They’re either run as a solo business or with very few staff- with very little financial backing. All of these causes have been responsible for migrant-led small businesses in Australia to go in a loss, post-pandemic.

The pandemic caused an exponential increase in domestic violence amongst certain CALD communities in Australia

Domestic violence(DV) raised its ugly head yet again, this time owing to the unlimited lockdowns. Vulnerable people were forced to stay or work from home. Home may be a safe haven for some, but for others, it is the complete opposite. Research conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology on 15,000 Australian women 3 months into the pandemic was an eye opener. The survey stated that a whopping 4.6% of Australian women stated that they suffered DV. For many women, the pandemic coincided with the onset or escalation of violence and abuse.


COVID-19 has brought to light many issues that multicultural migrants are facing in Australia. While multicultural migrants are resilient, these issues suggest a need for enhanced policy and initiatives to meet the needs of the CALD population. We need to provide them with the resources and cultural-specific help that they need.

Author: nisreenakolawala

I am a former Architect who left her career to follow her heart and passion, which involves travelling, photography and Social media marketing. I have stayed in a rustic village of Eastern Himalayas, swum with colorful fishes and corals in Fiji, lived with gypsy Banni villagers in Western India, interacted with Kenya’s Masai tribe, river rafted in the freezing cold river in Ladakh, lived and explored a quaint beach town of Tanga in Tanzania, took a 48 hour camel safari in the Thar desert of Rajasthan, sailed on a felucca on the mighty Nile river in Egypt and chilled with the Kangaroo’s in Australia. Needless to say I am always adding more experiences and places to the list.