Immigration to Rural and Regional Australia: Why and Why Not?

What do immigrants like or not like about living in rural areas?

Rural Australia 4Numerous articles in this blog have focused on immigration to rural areas of Canada. Today’s post describes the results of a study in a new context that will be of interest to our audience: the results of a longitudinal survey of almost 1,000 recent immigrants to rural areas of Australia. What do these immigrants like about living in rural areas? What do they dislike? Does this differ from research findings focused on Canada?

The objectives of the national survey were to explore

  • the skills and qualifications of the immigrants
  • their employment and settlement experience
  • their satisfaction with services in the communities in which they were living.

The survey results are contained in the recently published article “Looking for Rural Idyll ‘Down Under’: International Immigrants in Rural Australia,” by Branka Krivokapic-Skoko and Jock Collins and appearing in the journal International Migration. (Page numbers in this article refer to this article.)

Attract …..and Keep new immigrants!

The study was explicitly designed to answer the question:

“what would it take to attract and keep new immigrants in small regional townships and rural areas?” (p. 167)

Rural Australia 3

Types of Attractors

The Australian literature on immigrant attraction distinguishes between “natural” and “constructed” attractors:

  • Natural attractors: features of the physical environment, climate and physiographic factors, such as the beach, unique flora and fauna, or a sense of remoteness from big cities.
  • Constructed attractors: economic and socio-cultural factors, including housing, employment, and available social structures such as schools.

According to the literature cited, constructed factors that might influence settlement location also include the location of spouse, family and friends, job opportunities, information flows, links and distance from country of origin, previous visits, welcoming environment, access to a place of worship, and ethnic concentration.

For the most part, these factors were born out in the survey results (shown in Figure 1). According to the survey results, new international immigrants move to rural areas for some of the same reasons they move anywhere: for job opportunities and because they already have family and friends living there. Respondents also cited natural beauty, lifestyle and community spirit as attractive features. The survey found tension between “the imagined Australian rural ideal” and the reality which was sometimes characterized by remoteness, isolation and parochialism. (Copied from page 171 of the article)

p171 Reasons for moving Fig 1Attraction differs from Retention

Attraction of immigrants is fruitless if they do not remain in the area. Indeed, some of the Australian literature points to the importance of retention of skilled immigrants to rural and regional Australia and points to social connectedness as an important contributor to long-term stay in a particular place. “Constructed attractors” as defined above were found to relate to retention in particular, including the availability and quality of infrastructure, as well as recreational, entertainment and cultural activities.

“Both Australian and Canadian literature on this topic support to family linkages as attraction factors and a wider range of factors that support retention, namely employment and education opportunities and the quality of life (p. 169).”

Positives and Negatives

The survey also highlighted perceived negatives of living in regional and rural areas. The single most important complaint pertained to inadequate local services and facilities. (p. 173)

p173 Table 1 Features of Rural+Regional Places

Open-ended responses in the survey reinforced findings from the quantitative surveys: that employment and local employers are becoming central for happiness, satisfaction, and well-being of immigrants and their families – and for their integration into a community. (p. 175)

p175 Figure 2 Postie and Negative AspectsIn closing, the settlement experience is strongly related to constructed attractors such as the availability and quality of public transport, infrastructure, and the retail sector, as well as recreational, entertainment or cultural activities. As noted by the authors: Rural Australia 5

“These are areas where there may be more scope for policy intervention, such as particular infrastructure investments, in order to ease the urban-rural divide in accessing services. … Thus, communities with a high level of human capital, as well as vibrant and diverse arts and cultural life, sport and outdoor activities, and educational opportunities, and, furthermore, which can embrace creative thinking and tolerance, are the communities most likely to attract new immigrants. (p.177)”

This is good news for small communities in Ontario that have the will to construct attractors that can supplement existing natural attractors. The Australian study reveals many similarities to Canadian findings on this topic. Most importantly, that low levels of immigrant attraction to rural areas can be altered with political will that results in effective policy and program changes.


Full citation:

Branka Krivokapic-Skoko and Jock Collins, Looking for Rural Idyll ‘Down Under’: International Immigrants in Rural Australia, International Migration, 54 (1) 2016: 167-79.

Survey specifics:

The survey was part of the project: New Immigrants in the Regional and Rural Australia: Attraction and Retention, funded by Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (HCC06-27). It was conducted from 2008 to 2010 and focused on immigrants who arrived between 2003 and 2008 and settled in rural and regional Australia. Around 30% of the survey respondents lived non-metropolitan areas in their former country of residence (populations under 100,000 people) while almost 40% came from communities with fewer than 200,000 inhabitants.

Sarah V Wayland

Sarah Wayland, Principal Investigator

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