Global Conversations Beyond Discipline

Chinese Migration and Settler Well-being in Australia: The Case for Marriage

Australia has a long-standing history of immigration. Early immigrants came primarily from the United Kingdom. In recent decades there has been an influx of immigrants from non-English speaking backgrounds, particularly from Asia. The Chinese, Vietnamese and South Koreans communities have become prominent groups in Australian society. Immigrants from non-English speaking backgrounds face a number of challenges when trying to integrate in Australia. I will discuss some of these challenges through the experiences of a female Chinese immigrant.

Language and Migration

Linguistic performance is undoubtedly one of the most challenging issues which affect an immigrant’s perception of settlement well-being. I have a friend (let’s call her Mia) who came to Australia, on a spouse visa, to join her husband. When Mia arrived in Australia, she found that her poor English caused her to encounter more difficulties than she had expected. That is, without her husband’s company, she could not go shopping, use public transport, or see a doctor, over the first few months. However, the language difficulties did not seem to hinder her from all activities or decline her satisfaction of settlement well-being. Thanks to her husband, Mia was able to obtain a job in a Chinese massage parlour. In addition to their mutual companionship, they shared mono-ethnic friends circle (homogenous social networks of both partners in Australia), all of which made her settle in smoothly and comfortably despite not obtaining the desirable level of communication in English.

Kim’s research shows that there is a positive linear relationship between the measures for gaining English language proficiency and settlement well-being. ((Kim, S.H., Ehrich, J. & Ficorilli, L. 2010, ‘Perceptions of settlement well-being, language proficiency and employment: An investigation of immigrant adult language learners in Australia’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Vol. 789, pp. 1-12.)) The better linguistic capacity an individual has, the higher the measure of satisfaction in the target country. Kim gives an example of Hong, a female immigrant from Vietnam, who commented that “I feel confident I can do things by myself and claim the Medicare…”.

In the case of Mia, her initial plan was that she would take up an English class and then a specialised programme in order to assist her with future parenting responsibilities and possible employment (or starting a small business). Although she has not achieved any of these things yet, Mia is generally satisfied with her current life. Living in an isolated social circle with fellow Chinese immigrants could be thought of as comfortable; nevertheless, having broader networks would absolutely contribute to higher satisfaction and well-being.

Researchers such as Stoller and Krupinski argue that a married female immigrant is likely to remain the only non-assimilated person in her family and become isolated as her role of mother and wife begins to diminish, whereas their husbands learn English at work and their children become assimilated at school. ((Stoller, A. & Krupinski, J. 1973, Immigration to Australia: mental health aspects: Uprooting and after, Springer-Verlag: Berlin, p. 256.)) There is nevertheless a distinct opinion that can be raised in respect with this issue. However, in Chinese emigrant families with children, parents exert pressure on their offspring to respect them and learn Mandarin in light of learning Mandarin whereby children would pick up particular traditional values and therefore tradition would be protected by passing down the language. ((Hibbins, R. 2005, ‘Migration and gender identity among Chinese skilled male migrants to Australia’, Geoforum, Vol. 36, pp. 167-180.)) Further, in terms of the attachment, it is traditionally stronger between mother and children than it is between father and children in a Chinese family. It is very unlikely that mother would be excluded simply due to mother’s language issue. Additionally, mothers, after long residency, would have opportunities to learn some basic English, update their thoughts, gain new insights through communicating with friends, and exchanging parenting experiences. Based on this reasoning, it can be argued that a woman’s power and unique role in families would not be completely diminished by language barriers.

Employment and Migration

The research regarding interrelationships of English language proficiency, employment and migration settlement well-being conducted by Kim  found that “having a job is not necessarily determined by L2 (the second language) proficiency nor conducive to L2 learning per se and perceptions of settlement well-being”. ((Kim, S.H., Ehrich, J. & Ficorilli, L., op. cit.)) The benefits from employment can nevertheless be demonstrated by a reduction in financial stress, ability to discover options and/or modification of future possibilities and limitations.From the conversation with Mia, some similar findings have emerged. Employment does play a complex role in an immigrant’s life. On one hand, it is very likely and common for new immigrants from certain large immigrant populations (e.g. Chinese, Indians and Koreans) to attain a job within their own community. These jobs may not involve communicating in English or only require the basic English speaking skill. Cox also commented this as “such work involves frequently associating with fellow immigrants thus reducing the chance to learn better English”. ((Cox, D.R. 1989, Welfare Practice in a Multicultural Society, Prentice Hall: New York, p. 83.)) This is the primary reason some immigrants hardly satisfy with their own jobs and view them just as an income stream. On the other hand, work may have an overarching value for their settlement. It is having a job that allows a person to engage into a certain social network through approaching various people, thus their social life may blossom.

Marriage, Gender and Migration

Cox states that in some circumstances the married immigrant couples are at risk of failure since migration sometimes is the result of poor marriage while at other times the couples’ drastic change of individual circumstances causes marital difficulties. ((Ibid., p. 89.)) However, if gender specific roles are relatively clear in an immigrant family and each partner holds firm identity about this; and they are undergoing similar life circumstances, then it is more likely that their marriage will be a protective factor for their successful migration. This is, fortunately, the case of my friend’s Mia’s marital situation.

In terms of their marriage, it is necessary to discuss the gender specific role in a Chinese family. Traditionally, division of labour in a Chinese household is relatively strict with males playing the role of breadwinners while wives run household chores and mainly taking care of children. ((Hibbins, op. cit.)) In contemporary China however, with the development of women’s engagement in workforce, independent financial ability, the power balance has been changing. In more harmonious families, husbands’ masculinities are not necessarily shown as absolute power over wives, but hard working to provide and sustain the whole family, becoming a protector as a sure psychological anchor, on the basis of respecting with each other. This family dynamic is also exhibited in immigrant households as well. A research focused on US-born Asian men suggested these males tended to assist with household tasks and supported a balance in the division of household labour and they emphasised certain caring characteristics and did not oppose their masculinity to their femininity. ((Chua, P. & Fujino, D. 1999, Negotiating new Asian-American masculinity: an introduction, The Journal of Men’s Studies, Vol. 7, pp. 295-315.))

As mentioned above, Mia’s marriage playing an important, positive role in her settlement rather than being the opposite. Thus, her sense of security, the absence of isolation and positive attitudes toward life in a new territory are almost all from her successful marriage life.


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