Key points:
1. The 2021 census data shows almost half of all Australians have a parent born overseas
2. India has overtaken China and New Zealand to become the third-largest country of birth, behind Australia and England
3. Mandarin continues to be the most common language other than English used at home

Dipti Ray and her family moved permanently to Australia from India in 2020. The 36-year-old spent time in the country for work a decade ago but didn’t imagine this was where she would end up.

“I went back to India because my family and everybody was there … I never really thought of moving back to Australia,” Ms. Ray told the ABC.

“But especially after having a kid, we thought we would have better opportunities here.” 

Although relocating during COVID came with its challenges, Ms. Ray, her husband, and her four-year-old are happily settled in Glen Waverley in Melbourne’s east. The


Ray’s family is part of a growing Indian community in Australia.
Nearly 220,000 additional people reported they were born in India in the latest census, compared to when the previous census was conducted in 2016, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data released today. This led to India overtaking China and New Zealand to become the third-largest country of birth, behind Australia and England. And in total, more than 1 million people have migrated to Australia since the 2016 census.

Ms. Ray says there is a large Indian community her family connects with for cultural activities, but she has also seen a wider recognition of India’s traditional celebrations.

“There’s a lot of exposure to these festivals — I know Diwali is a big thing,” she said.

The census — a national household questionnaire carried out every five years — took place in August last year amid the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. The data revealed that almost half of all Australians (48.2 percent) had a parent born overseas, and more than a quarter was themselves born overseas.

In comparison, 45.5 percent of Australians had at least one parent born overseas in 2016.

Australians were also asked to report up to two “ancestries” — separate to the question about the country of birth.

English remained the most common ancestry (33 percent), followed by Australian (29.9 percent), Irish (9.5 percent), Scottish (8.6 percent), and Chinese (5.5 percent).

Nepalese community doubles

Another notable migration trend was the growth of the Nepalese population, which doubled since the previous census. Nepal had the second-largest increase in country of birth, with an additional 67,752 people counted. Pranab Shrestha came to Australia in 2014 to finish his master’s degree in engineering. He ended up staying on a skilled migrant visa.

“I had plans to go back to my home country but our family business that was there didn’t work out,” Mr. Shrestha told the ABC.

“So I felt that it was better to stay for our job opportunities and options for a more comfortable life.”

The latest Department of Home Affairs figures shows that, since 2017, the majority of Nepalese migrants are entering the country on the state and territory skilled nominated visas and partner visas.

Mr. Shrestha says there was already a sizeable Nepalese community where he lives in Melbourne’s northwest, but lately, he has noticed it growing.

“When we go to shops or the plazas you can hear more people conversing in our language,” he said.

The 37-year-old tries to speak Nepali as much as he can with his two daughters, who were born in Australia.

They also celebrate their traditional Nepalese customs.

For Mr. Shrestha, he was able to transition comfortably into life in Australia, saying there were systems in place to help him along the way.

“You can get a lot of information easily available and it’s sufficient enough to guide you through, actually,” he said.

Mandarin remains the language most spoken other than English

Although India overtook China to become the third-largest country of birth, Mandarin continues to be the most common language spoken at home other than English.

Nearly 700,000 people reported speaking Mandarin at home, followed by Arabic with about 367,000.

Punjabi had the largest increase of 80 percent since 2016, with just over 239,000 Australians now using the language at home.

The 2021 census data collected information on more than 250 ancestries and 350 languages.

“The information collected in the census provides important data to help plan services and support for culturally and linguistically diverse communities at the local level,” Australian Bureau of Statistics chief statistician David Gruen said.

“For example, by understanding the growing population groups in their area, community groups can provide in-language services at the local level.”

Tingting Wang came to Australia in 2003 as an international student. After graduation, she chose to stay in Australia, got married, and had two children. For Ms. Wang and her husband, Hai Li, it is important that the next generation maintains language skills. They speak Mandarin with their two boys at home to give them a better understanding of Chinese culture.

“We believe learning Chinese is vital to our kids,” Ms. Wang told the ABC.

“We need to provide a good language environment for my sons to practice Chinese every day and bring them up in a bilingual context.”

It is common for Chinese Australian parents to place strong importance on children keeping up language skills. Ms. Wang teaches at a language school over the weekends and witnesses how difficult it can be for second-generation migrants to read and write Chinese.

“I frequently take my kids to China for a holiday during school breaks, so that they can immerse themselves in Mandarin and Chinese culture,” she said.


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