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Migration experiences

This section explores the migration experiences of migrant respondents, particularly the geographic and economic backgrounds of migrants, the push and pull factors underlying their migration, the costs and burdens of migration and the migration mechanisms they used.

Previous country and occupation

For the majority of migrant respondents, the last country of residence was their country of birth, suggesting that most had immigrated directly to Australia. The exceptions were migrant respondents previously residing in New Zealand; nearly one-third of these respondents were born elsewhere, mostly in Thailand (Table 10).

More than half of respondents identified ‘student’ (29%) or ‘worker’ (24%) as their main occupation before coming to Australia (Figure 5). These two categories were also frequently selected by migrant respondents in the New Zealand survey (23%, n=28; 18% n=22, respectively; Roguski 2013). Only six percent of respondents in this Australian survey identified sex work as their main occupation.

Table 10 Birth country of migrant respondents by previous country of residence (%)a
Previous country of residence
Birth country New Zealand China Thailand South Korea Other
New Zealand 69 0 0 0 0
China 6 100 1 2 6
Thailand 19 0 98 13 3
South Korea 0 0 0 82 1
Other 6 0 1 2 90
Total (n) 32 95 165 45 67

a: Excludes 8 migrant respondents who did not answer the question on previous country of residence

Note: Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Figure 5 Occupation of migrant respondents before travelling to Australia (%)a

N=392

a: Excludes 20 migrant respondents who did not respond to this question

b: Child/infant category collated from responses in the ‘other–specify’ category

c: Professional/office worker category collated from the specification of ‘other’ in the survey question and composed of office clerks or an occupation that requires qualifications

Note: Respondents could select more than one response

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Push and pull factors for migration

As defined in the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Glossary of Migration (IOM 2004: 49):

Migration is often analysed in terms of the ‘push–pull model’, which looks at the push factors, which drive people to leave their country and the pull factors, which attract them to a new country.

A major push factor for migrant respondents to leave their home country was education (30%; Figure 6), which was also a commonly selected reason among migrant sex workers in New Zealand for leaving their home country (26%, n=32; Roguski 2013). Financial incentives also emerged as an important push factor, either to support family (19%) or to get a higher paid job (17%); six percent of respondents indicated debt problems as a reason for leaving (Figure 6).

Seventeen percent of respondents left their home country to get married (Figure 6). Proportionally fewer migrant respondents to the New Zealand study indicated that they left their home country to be married (7%, n=9), while more indicated that they wanted to travel (20%, n=25; Roguski 2013).

Figure 6 Migrant respondents’ reasons for leaving home country (%)a

N=408

a: Excludes 4 migrant respondents who did not respond to this question. Excludes responses to the ‘other’ option to the question due to survey print error (167 migrant respondents were missing this option on their survey)

Note: Respondents could select multiple responses to the question on reasons for leaving home country

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

The most common reason respondents came to Australia rather than another country was because they knew someone living here (29%). Other frequently reported reasons for migrating to Australia were to be married (22%), to have better study options available to them (20%) and/or because the work environment was better (19%; Figure 7).

The most frequent ‘other’ reason for moving to Australia included the benefits of the Australian climate and lifestyle (n=6). Others stated that they moved here specifically to travel (n=2), with their family when they were a child (n=3), because sex work was legal here (n=3), to make money (n=4) and/or to be with their partner (n=2). One respondent stated that she was forced here against her will; another stated that she was a refugee.

Push and pull factors for migration, although closely related, are conceptually different. People’s reasons for leaving their home country may vary from the reasons for which they select a certain country to migrate to. Eighty-nine percent (n=63) of migrant respondents who indicated that they left their home country to be married also selected ‘became married’ as the reason they chose to migrate to Australia. For those who stated that they left their home country to study, only 50 percent (n=61) identified the better study options available in Australia as their reason for choosing Australia as a migration destination.

Figure 7 Migrant respondents’ reasons for travelling to Australia (%)a

N=402

a: Excludes 10 migrant respondents who did not respond to this question

Note: Respondents could select multiple responses to the question on reasons for travelling to Australia

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Entering Australia—migration mechanisms

As a proxy measure for the types of visas migrant respondents had used to enter Australia, respondents were asked what ‘actions’ they had undertaken to enter Australia. It was considered too sensitive an issue to ask respondents directly what visa they were on when they migrated. Most commonly, migrant respondents had enrolled in an education course in order to enter Australia (43%, n=160; see Figure 8). Sixty percent (n=96) of migrant respondents who enrolled in an education course also selected ‘to study’ as one of the reasons they had left their home country. One-quarter of migrant respondents (n=94) entered Australia to be married, with 67 percent (n=63) of these respondents indicating that they wanted to leave their home country in order to be married. Seventeen percent (n=63) came into the country as a tourist and 38 percent (n= 24) of these migrant respondents indicated that they wanted to leave their home country in order to travel.

Migrant respondents also identified other methods used to enter Australia such as having New Zealand citizenship (n=4), receiving a ‘work holiday’ or ‘working holiday’ visa (n=5), accompanying family into Australia and/or having Australian descendants (n=12). There were two migrant respondents who stated that they were refugees in response to this question. Of these two, one was the migrant respondent who indicated that the reason they migrated to Australia was because they were a refugee (as reported previously in this section); the other indicated that they migrated to Australia because they knew someone living here. One of these respondents selected ‘moved with my family’ in response to the question on why they left their home country. The other respondent, who claimed she was a refugee, stated that she left her home country ‘for fear of my own/family’s safety’.

In response to this question, a few migrant respondents identified some reluctance in migrating to Australia, with one respondent stating, ‘At the beginning I didn’t want to come but I had to after I got married.’

In contrast to the New Zealand survey responses, more migrant respondents in the AIC/Scarlet Alliance survey were enrolled in an education course (43%, n=160 cf. 27%, n=34), got married (25% cf 15%) and fewer entered the country as a tourist (17% cf 44%; Figure 8) (Roguski 2013).

There were significant differences in workers’ previous country of residence between those who did and did not enter Australia by enrolment in an education course (χ2(4)=24.95, p<0.001), through marriage (χ2(4)=20.25, p<0.001) or travelling to Australia as a tourist (χ2(4)=19.71, p<0.01).

  • Respondents previously residing in Thailand were more likely to enrol in an education course; those previously residing in New Zealand were less likely to enrol in an education course.
  • Respondents previously residing in Thailand were more likely to get married; those previously residing in South Korea were less likely to get married.
  • Respondents previously residing in South Korea and New Zealand were more likely to travel as a tourist; those previously residing in Thailand were less likely to travel as a tourist.

As stated previously, the survey did not ask respondents about their current visa status; however, the actions undertaken by the respondent to enter Australia may denote the type of visa they were issued at the time of the survey. However, as it is not known how long each respondent has been in Australia, or whether they had visited Australia before, this is not a straightforward assumption. For example, those who enrolled in an education course may no longer be studying and may subsequently be in Australia on a different visa or have gained citizenship or permanent residency.

The only means available to broadly assess whether the respondents who enrolled in an education course to enter Australia were still studying, and therefore were still on a student visa, was to compare the ages of respondents with those of all international students in Australia. Comparisons with data from Australian Education International (AEI) show that the survey respondents who enrolled in an education course to enter Australia were older than international students generally: less than 10 percent of international students were aged 30–34 years (AEI 2010 data, cited in ABS 2011) compared with 34 percent of survey respondents. However, AEI data also showed that close to one-quarter of Thai international students were aged 30–34 years (AEI 2012 2013) and therefore the older age of survey respondents may be a result of the over-representation of those previously residing in Thailand among those who enrolled in an education course to enter Australia. Overall, the comparison was largely inconclusive regarding whether the migrant respondents were students at the time of surveying.

Of the respondents who entered Australia by getting married (and this was the only action they selected for the question on actions undertaken to enter Australia), just more than one-third indicated that they were currently registered as married (35%; Figure 10); nearly one-quarter were divorced (24%) and almost 15 percent were separated but not divorced (14%; Figure 10). Therefore the majority of migrant respondents who reported entering Australia to marry were no longer married at the time of the survey. However, because well more than half of migrant respondents who entered Australia to get married also indicated that getting married was one of the reasons that they left their home country (as described previously), these results may illustrate the rate of marriage breakdown rather than the proportion of sham marriages conducted in order to migrate.

Figure 8 Migrant respondents’ actions undertaken to enter Australia (%)a

N=374

a: Excludes 38 migrant respondents who did not respond to this question

Note: Respondents could select multiple responses to the question on actions undertaken to enter Australia

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Figure 9 Age group of migrant respondents who enrolled in an education course to enter Australia (%)a

N=149

a: Migrant respondents who selected more than one action to enter Australia were excluded

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Figure 10 Relationship status of migrant respondents who got married to enter Australia (%)a

N=84

a: Migrant respondents who selected more than one action to enter Australia were excluded. Also excluded were 3 migrant respondents who selected ‘got married’ as their only action to enter Australia but did not answer the question on relationship status

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Assistance in securing a visa

Respondents were also asked about who helped them to secure a visa (eg who organised the relevant paperwork) and with whom they travelled to come to Australia. About one-quarter of all migrant respondents received the assistance of a broker/agent, one-quarter arranged their visa on their own and more than one-quarter were assisted by their fiancé/husband/boyfriend (Figure 11). Brokers and migration agents have been identified as playing a role in cases involving the deception and exploitation of migrant workers (David 2008); therefore, the predominance of self-arranged migration is a positive trend that may reduce such risks.

Where respondents received the assistance of more than one person (n=17), all but two used the services of a broker/agent together with another relative, partner or acquaintance. More than half of respondents signified that the people who helped them secure a visa were based in Australia (n=150, 58%; excluding 81 migrant respondents who did not respond to this question).

The previous country of residence significantly differed for migrant respondents who had or had not received assistance in terms of securing a visa from their fiancé/husband/boyfriend (χ2(4)=25.21, p<0.001), a broker/agent (χ2(4)=29.43, p<0.001) or a relative (χ2(4)=20.91, p<0.001, one cell with expected frequency <5) or who arranged their visa on their own (χ2(4)=65.68, p<0.001).

  • Migrant respondents previously residing in Thailand were more likely to have a fiancé/boyfriend/husband arrange their visa; respondents previously residing in South Korea were less likely to have a fiancé/boyfriend/partner arrange their visa.
  • Migrant respondents previously residing in China were more likely to have a broker/agent arrange their visa; respondents previously residing in New Zealand (who were not necessarily New Zealand citizens and therefore required a visa to enter Australia) and ‘other’ countries were less likely to have a broker/agent arrange their visa.
  • Migrant respondents previously residing in Thailand and ‘other’ countries were more likely to have a relative arrange their visa; respondents previously residing in China and South Korea were less likely to have a relative arrange their visa.
  • Migrant respondents previously residing in South Korea, New Zealand and ‘other’ countries were more likely to arrange their visa on their own; respondents previously residing in Thailand were less likely to arrange their visa on their own.

Three migrant respondents stated they travelled with their boss or employer but the majority (63%) travelled alone (Figure 12), as did most of the migrant respondents to the New Zealand survey (62%, n=77; Roguski 2013).

Figure 11 People who helped migrant respondents secure a visa (%)

N=376

a: Excludes 36 migrant respondents who did not respond to this question

Note: The majority of those who selected ‘other person’ as their helper simply used this space to clarify why they did not need to get a visa—for instance, being a citizen of New Zealand or being an Australian citizen by descent. Respondents could select multiple responses to the question on people who helped migrant respondents secure a visa

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Figure 12 People who accompanied migrant respondents on their journey to Australia (%)a

N=392

a: Excludes 20 migrant respondents who did not respond to this question

Note: Respondents could select multiple responses to the question on people who accompanied them on their journey to Australia

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Travel costs

Respondents were asked how much it cost them to travel, enter and start working in Australia. Respondents were able to select the amount paid from a range of currencies (eg Thai baht, South Korean won, New Zealand dollar). Currencies were converted to Australian dollars using exchange rates current at the midpoint of survey collection (30 June 2010). The date respondents migrated to Australia was unknown; therefore, the amount in Australian dollars may not reflect the value at the time respondents migrated.

More than half of migrant respondents declined to answer the question on how much it cost to travel, enter and start working in Australia. Some respondents clarified, stating that they were unsure because their parents paid for the trip. Of those who answered the question (n=194), about three-quarters had spent less than $10,000; half indicated that they spent less than $5,000 and close to one-quarter spent $5,000–$9,999 (Figure 13). The small number who spent $50,000 or more reported spending quite large sums, with two respondents spending between $100,000 and $150,000, with the largest reported expenditurethat of one respondent who spent $425,000.

There was a significant difference in the distribution of migration costs between migrant respondents who selected a broker/agent as someone who arranged their visa and those who did not (Table 11); those who used a broker/agent to arrange their visa were more likely to have costs more than $10,000 and less likely to have costs of less than $5,000.

There was no significant difference in the cost distribution of migrant respondents who stated they spent the majority of their income on debt in Australia and/or in their home country.

Figure 13 Migration costs for migration respondents (%)a

N=212

a: Excludes 200 migrant respondents who did not respond to this question

Note: The question on migration costs had a high non-response rate (49%); therefore, responses may not be representative of the migrant sample. Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Table 11 Migration costs for migrant respondents by people who arranged visa (%)a
Relative Fiancé/husband/boyfriend Broker/agentb No-onec
A$ Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No
Less than 5,000 44 53 58 50 19* 65* 67* 46*
5,000 to 9,999 41 20 23 22 29 20 17 24
10,000 to 19,999 11 16 12 17 31* 10* 10 18
20,000 to 49,999 4 6 4 7 12* 3* 3 7
50,000 or more 0 5 4 5 10* 2* 2 5
Total (n) 27 178 52 153 59 146 58 147

* adj res outside +/–1.96

a: Excludes 36 migrant respondents who did not respond to the question on people who arranged their visa and 171 migrant respondents who answered the question on people who arranged their visa but did not respond to the question on migration costs

b: χ(4)=42.21, p<0.001, two cells with expected frequency <5

c: χ(4)=8.29, p=0.081, two cells with expected frequency <5

Note: The question on migration costs had a high non-response rate (49%); therefore, responses may not be representative of the migrant sample. Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. Respondents could select multiple responses for the question on people who arranged their visa

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]

Migration satisfaction

More than two-thirds of migrant respondents indicated they intended to stay in Australia for more than two years (Figure 14). For those who intended to stay for two years or less, 38 percent did not want to come back to Australia to work (n=46, excluding four migrant respondents who did not respond to the question), while just more than one-quarter did wish to return (26%).

Many of the migrant respondents who replied that they did not want to come back to Australia did not give a reason for this decision. Of those who did, some indicated they had experienced bad situations working in the sex industry:

  • ‘I really hate it’ [translated from Korean]; and
  • ‘because the job is [dangerous] and hard’.

Other comments related to being lonely and wanting to be reunited with family and friends in their home country:

  • ‘no friends’ [translated from Chinese];
  • ‘in here I stay alone’; and
  • ‘wanting to be with family’ [translated from Thai].

Overall, seven migrant respondents expressed a dislike of the work or declared feelings of loneliness and missing their family as reasons they would not come back to Australia to work.

There were also responses that demonstrated a need to move on with their lives; to do something different, such as study or travel or to transition to what one respondent termed a ‘legitimate’ job.

Figure 14 Migrant respondents’ intended length of stay in Australia (%)a

N=397

a: Excludes 15 migrant respondents who did not answer the question on intended length of stay

Source: AIC, Sex Worker Migration and Vulnerabilities to Trafficking 2010 [computer file]