Migrants In Western Society: Are They Better Off Here?

Today, many people who are born and bred in developing nations often choose to leave their country and homeland at some point in their lives and move to the Western world. To escape on-going violence in the homeland. To find a job or get an education. Or to seek greener pastures and find a pot of goal at the end of the rainbow in a modernised city.

But is life really more cushy in the new land than back home for these newly arrived migrants / third culture kids / international students / refugees who with limited resources on their backs? Even in the long run?

Many people in developing countries live in sub-par housing, unlike those in Western cities. Rainy KL, Malaysia. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Many people in developing countries live in sub-par housing, unlike those in Western cities. Rainy KL, Malaysia. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Migrants in Western countries are able to live with modern, solid roofs over their heads.

But some of them live in spaces that are the size of a shoe box, spaces that are overcrowded, cramped and shared with half-a-dozen-other-people as such accommodation is what they can only afford.

Migrants are able to earn a place and study at esteemed education institutions.

At times they struggle to comprehend the English language and fall behind in their studies.

Some migrants work hard and manage to attain a diploma or a degree. Even two.

They attack the workforce after settling in in the Western land and land a job just like that – as a waiter in a restaurant waiting tables or a taxi driver driving people around in circles. A job that has no correlation with their professional qualifications.

And sometimes they work multiple jobs of this kind to make financial ends meet.

Migrants are dedicated to these jobs anyway as these job pay much more, maybe two or three times more, than the same job back in their homeland.

But they are always asked to work overtime below the minimum wage and basically perform “slave labour”.

Some migrants tough this out and do manage to suss out a stable job with a proper paycheck in the Western workforce, a workforce where employers considerably favour employing Anglo-Saxon locals.

And it is not surprising for migrants to face racially motivated office politics or a ruthless boss with xenophobic attitude which in no way makes a pleasant work environment.

Out of the office, there is plenty for migrants to see and do for leisure – geographically checking out their new surroundings if they like exploring new places or participating in community groups or classes such as yoga or swing dancing. Perhaps together with new found local friends.

Perhaps alone.

Sometimes their happy times are dashed when migrants unfortunately, unexpectedly, fall on the receiving end of racial insults or treatment.

And sooner or later migrants realise just how out of place, different, they actually are. Different in terms of speech, skin colour, religion and beliefs compared to most of the Caucasian people around them who at times do not welcome this difference.

One misses the authentic lip smacking food that can only be found back home.

And family. And the culture and homeliness of home.

The possibility of going back to the homeland always lurks.

So there comes a point when some migrants struggle to choose between staying or going back, weighing up the pros and cons of each decision.

For some migrants, the only way of getting around in their homeland is by motorcycle, swerving through bumper-to-bumper traffic. KL, Malaysia. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

For some migrants, the only way of getting around in their homeland is by motorcycle, swerving through bumper-to-bumper traffic. KL, Malaysia. Photo by Mabel Kwong.

Going back would mean going back to a place where traffic is absolutely horrendous, bumper-to-bumper where road rules and public transport are pretty much non-existent.

Going back would mean saying hello to precariously riding motorbikes to get around once again for some.

Going back would mean being paranoid about one’s safety in the high crime-rate homeland, being paranoid about carrying a bag outside or waving one’s iPhone around too much.

Going back would mean easily getting a stable job – but one would really be earning just enough to get by.

Going back would mean strictly adhering to traditions and being silenced from expressing most personal alternative views one might have, and for some walking into arranged marriages.

Are the sacrifices and compromises made while living in Western society really worth it for migrants?

For those who yearn for an economically and socially stable future, the answer would most likely be a definitive yes.


5 thoughts on “Migrants In Western Society: Are They Better Off Here?

  1. I had a discussion on this topic with a Pakistani taxi driver a couple of weeks back, so it was interesting to read your excellent take on the issue. He told me that much as he loved Australia, he would be going home at the end of the year so that he could be closer to his family. They had visited recently and decided they could not live here.

    My parents and their friends faced a similar dilemna in their early years here.

    My father came to Australia from China about 25 years ago, studying during the day and cleaning toilets at night to pay for necessities. Having left behind a family, a comfortable white-collar job and a society whose downside was lack of economic opportunity (until a few years later, anyway) rather than lack of safety, he often thought of returning home. But having borrowed money from friends and relatives in order to make the journey, the idea of going back with nothing to show for what was then an exorbitant sum did not sit well with him.

    Some of my parents’ friends did end up leaving, some for career opportunities, some for family and some because they continued to feel out of place here. The one trait common amongst them was that none had children in Australia. I heard my parents discuss the issue a few times, and each time it filled me with fear that as I had naturally not kept up my level of Chinese, I would be forced to choose between either being a struggling student amongst those of my age or facing the ignominy of being in a class with younger children. Also, my Australian born brother would have caused all sorts of issues with China’s one child policy. These would have been major considerations for my parents, but were no impediment to their friends.

    Visiting China in 1998, both my father and mother felt out of place in a country that had changed dramatically since they left 10 and 7 years ago respectively, a country in which they would not choose to live and work even if circumstances permitted. It was fortunate then that they were both able to comfortably integrate into Australia, speaking reasonable English, accepting western customs and even picking a football team. I imagine those who did not integrate so easily would have faced a far tougher decision.


    • It’s very interesting to hear that some of your parents’ friends who came to Australia ended up leaving, and especially that they had no children here. As you suggested, having no children tying them down Down Under could be another factor that spurred them to leave. It also seems rather brave of them to go back to their homelands – where earning loads of money overseas is highly admired – with “nothing”.

      Australia is definitely a nice place to live in, and I know many of my friends/acquaintances (of Asian descent from SEA) do want to stay here. Some of them do/did come here, be it for a holiday or to study. However, a large number of them – just like your parents’ friends – choose to leave and go back to their home countries even after a lengthy stay in Oz. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And this is more often than not because, to quote you, “they could not live here” – they simply prefer the culture and livelihood back home.

      I do know some from Asia who have migrated to Melbourne, love it here and are planning to stay here in the long term. However, there are only a few of them (at least those I know of). Strangely perplexing.

      Thank you for reading, and thank you for taking the time to comment. I loved reading it. 🙂


  2. A couple of my parents’ friends who went back had actually completed their studies here, so there was plenty of money for them back home, especially as this was just as China’s economy really started to grow. I think this is something that’s also true now of other Asian countries. A Vietnamese fellow I knew at uni told me that his degree would be so valuable back home that he would be able to afford a lifestyle well beyond what he could expect in Australia. A colleague from the Philippines also went home, taking advantage of his contacts here and the cheaper wages there to build up an outsourcing business. I’ve heard though that in China, there’s now such an oversupply of Australian graduates that it’s no longer really valued. A family friend who had always insisted that she would return home ended up deciding to stay, even with a less than ideal job.

    I think the other thing to consider is whether their reason for coming to Australia was to migrate or simply to study. While those of my parents’ generation were nominally here to study, I do not know a single one whose intent wasn’t migration. I wonder how true that is now.


  3. Pingback: What Exactly Is “Ethnic”? Is The Word “Ethnic” Relevant Anymore Today? | Mabel Kwong

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