Australia’s international borders closed on 20 March 2020. There is no clear timeline for when they will reopen, although the 2021 Federal Budget has suggested some time in 2022.
Closed borders have had a great impact on recent migrant groups, for whom the ability to travel internationally and visit family is especially important. These groups, however, do not necessarily meet the exemption criteria to return to Australia from overseas. Moreover, they are unlikely to be able to afford the high cost of first-class flights and hotel quarantine to return.
There is no scholarly research on how Indian diaspora groups have experienced this border shutdown or on the implications of this experience, if any, for India-Australia political relations. This lack of research is despite the fact that Indian Australians have likely been severely affected, after entering Australia from India was briefly criminalised, even punishable by jail time, in late May 2021.
More generally, as developing nations struggle to source vaccines necessary to control the pandemic, the prospect has now emerged of years of movement restrictions between the countries of the global south and the global north, including between India and Australia.
Yet engaging the Indian diaspora and leveraging people-to-people ties to build a state-to-state relationship, has become a key strategy of Australian foreign policy, as outlined in the 2017 Varghese report. According to the 2016 Australian census, 675,658 people saw themselves as “Indian” in 2016. Of these, 455,389 were born in India. This is 1.9 percent of Australia’s population. Indian Australians constitute one of the largest migrant groups in Australia and Indians were one of the fastest growing migrant groups in Australia prior to the pandemic. Given the size and diversity of this group, the idea of “leveraging a diaspora” tends to treat a diverse and sometimes politically fractured group as a monolithic entity.
In any case, to what extent has this goal of “leveraging” the Indian diaspora to produce closer ties between India and Australia been damaged by the border closures? What effects have closed borders had on the diverse Indian diaspora in Australia? How widely have they been experienced? We do not currently know.
This project seeks to understand how the Indian diaspora in Australia is experiencing life in Australian society, and the process of migration, at a time of closed borders.
If you see yourself as Indian and you live in Australia, whether you are “from” India or anywhere else in the world, you can access the survey here.
Image one republished under CC BY2.0. Photographer: Gwydion M. Williams. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/45909111@N00/49983904461/.
Image two republished under CC BY 2.0. Photographer: Colin Cooke. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cooke1/51147130506/.