Saudi Arabians in Australia
Migration History and Demographics
Saudi migration to Australia began in the 20th century. However, the vast majority of the Saudi population has arrived since 2007. It is estimated 70% of Saudi Arabian-born people migrated to Australia between 2006 and 2015.1 At the time of the 2016 census, there were over 12,000 Saudi Arabians living in Australia.
Much Saudi migration to Australia is temporary. Most Saudis tend to arrive as international students or skilled migrants and return to Saudi Arabia after their study or job contract ends. Such individuals usually have strong levels of English proficiency and some form of higher qualification. Over 4,500 Saudis were enrolled at Australian education institutions in 2018.2 Most students are sponsored by the Saudi government and are offered financial and academic support. This scholarship is available to all Saudi Arabians, meaning students are often from many different regions and backgrounds. It’s generally quite rare for Saudis to migrate for a reason other than study.
Saudi Arabians living in Australia tend to have a higher median income compared to other migrant populations and the average Australian-born population.3 They are predominantly young (majority being under the age of 30). Some migrate with their spouses, while others are single and unmarried. Female students often migrate with a male member of their family (e.g. a husband or brother), as the government scholarship program requires a male guardian. Men tend to migrate in greater numbers than women. The prevalence of male migrants compared to female migrants is also reflected in the student population with just under a quarter of the total number of Saudi-Australian students being female.
Experience in Australia
Many Saudis enjoy their lifestyle in Australia, commenting that they gain a greater sense of self-confidence and independence.4 As most Saudi students in Australia are sponsored and supported by the Saudi government, they often have fewer settlement concerns with regard to finding accommodation and struggling with course fees. However, some may encounter greater difficulties adjusting to the Australian social environment.
For example, gender segregation is a cultural norm throughout Saudi Arabian society and in the country’s educational institutions and workplaces. Therefore, Saudis often face new and potentially uncomfortable experiences in Australian universities and businesses due to the mixed-gender educational and professional environments.5 Newly arrived Saudis may be more reserved and modest around unrelated members of the opposite gender (as this is considered polite behaviour in Saudi Arabia). However, others report quickly becoming more natural and outgoing once they have embraced the change.
Saudi Arabians can encounter negative stereotypes of their culture and people that may impact upon their engagement within the Australian community. Interaction with Australians can occasionally become very political quite quickly as media reporting and pop culture often depicts the Saudi people as oppressive (men) or oppressed (women). Saudi women specifically report feeling socially ostracised due to the conclusions Australians sometimes draw about their level of conservatism or personal freedom based on their .
Many Saudis that move to Australia have grown up in households that hire maids and domestic workers. They may have never had to do household chores, such as washing their clothes or cooking. Therefore, some people initially struggle balancing daily chores (such as cooking) with their work/study life, especially if they migrate alone. This can be interpreted poorly by Australians as arrogance or entitlement. However, be aware that people’s independence varies on an individual basis.
The pre-departure course offered by the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education also emphasises the importance of maintaining cultural identity in the culture of the host nation.6 Most Saudis return to their country after their work or study visa expires to be reunited with their family. If the person is not already married, they may feel a social pressure to go back to get engaged. The temporary nature of migration means that some Saudis may prefer to socialise with other Saudis and Arabic speakers. The strong presence of Saudi students has led to the establishment of student clubs in every major Australian city, with more clubs in rural and coastal cities such as Newcastle, Wollongong and Toowoomba. Such associations and clubs are often supported by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM).
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