Huge pool of senior talent set to land in Australia, as expats return home post-Covid

After two years of uncertainty for Australians living and working abroad, the recent reopening of borders is expected to drive a huge surge in top global talent returning to the Australian jobs market, according to the 2021 Advance Survey of Global Australians, released today.


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Media release

The annual survey – conducted in partnership with global leadership firm Russell Reynolds Associates – found 65 per cent of Australians living overseas are planning to come home, many in the next few years, and they’re looking for their next big gig on Australian soil.

From financial services to science and medicine, from philanthropy to the arts, the Australian diaspora spans across every industry, with the largest representation in the Financial and Professional Services sector (26%), followed by IT and Telecommunications (14%), then Education and Academia (12%). With almost a third having lived overseas for more than two decades, this influx of global talent represents significant expertise and senior leadership, ready to help shape Australia’s recovery in a post-covid world. CEO Johanna Pitman said: “Australian expats living and working all over the world represent some of our nation’s greatest exports. With decades of experience in international markets, these talented Aussies hold valuable insights, expertise and experience that could propel the Australian economy forward.

“More than half of the returning expats we surveyed are senior leaders and directors with a deep understanding of the countries they have previously worked in. Such experienced Global Australians offer sought-after insights and guidance about global customer and client trends, and existing suppliers. They can provide assurance that what appears to be unforeseen challenges and risks have already been identified and considered. This returning talent pool of industry leaders and shapers could be the secret to a new level of international success for Australia,” Ms Pitman said.

While only 7% of survey respondents said they had lost employment, business or investment opportunities due to COVID, 37% saw their plans to travel to and from Australia delayed or cancelled, with a further 30% experiencing personal hardship, anguish and frustration at these restrictions.

“The challenges of the global pandemic and the associated border restrictions have left many frustrated and isolated overseas, with more than one in four Global Australians telling us the thing that surprised them the most about their home country was the strict rules applied during the pandemic. While their resilience and skills ensured the majority did not suffer professionally during these challenging times, the pandemic did have a significant personal impact on many. As these Australians return to start a new chapter back home, it’s critical we provide the connections and support to ease this transition and capitalise on the wealth of talent pouring into our country,” Ms Pitman said.

Among survey respondents who had already returned or plan to return soon, 33% said rebuilding their professional networks was the most difficult part. A further 22% also struggled with sorting their tax and superannuation, while 22% struggled with finding a home to buy or rent in a volatile housing market. Meanwhile, among those surveyed who have decided to remain overseas, 33% said their reason for staying was for the better career opportunities offered abroad.

Managing Director at Russell Reynolds Associates Peter L. O’Brien said: “Despite the challenges of the pandemic – uncertain economic growth, health threats, geopolitical instability, technological disruption, and being away from loved ones for a long period of time – Australians expats are displaying their outstanding resilience as they navigate through this trying time. We are thrilled to partner with Advance to launch the Global Australians Survey report. We believe the insights will help companies and leadership teams mitigate risks and leverage this talent pool of global Australian leaders to operate in a global marketplace.”

A total of 729 participants responded to the survey, living in 40 countries or territories. The location of survey respondents reflects the geographic distribution of Advance overseas members – North America 47%, China 13%, Hong Kong 6%, Other Asia 14%, UK 9%, Europe 6%, Middle East 2%, South Asia 1%, and Rest of World 2%. This dataset provides statistically significant results from the Australian diaspora, which is estimated to total around 1 million people globally.

Other key survey findings include:

  • 61% of survey respondents identify as holding senior roles. The proportion is even higher (68%) within the subset of individuals who have already returned to Australia.
  • Among those who recently returned to Australia, the top reasons to return are to be near family and friends (25%) and for the lifestyle and quality of life in Australia (19%).
  • 42% of individuals who have returned to Australia since March 2020 plan to stay permanently, 31% would like to return overseas sometime in the future, and 15% are planning to go back overseas in the next year.
  • Returnees have mostly settled in New South Wales (54%), Victoria (27%), the Australian Capital Territory (8%), Western Australia (8%), and the Northern Territory (3%).
  • The majority of returnees had already found a new job in Australia (33%), while 23% are working for their employer overseas. 3% indicated they are still looking for work.
  • Expats overseas are interested in continuing their relationship with Australia, by mentoring others wanting to go global (28%), and connecting their global networks with Aussies (18%).
  • Despite the challenge of keeping up with Australia’s federal elections when overseas, 37% of respondents said they plan on voting in the upcoming elections. conducted the 2021 Survey of Global Australians from 4 November 2021 to 17 January 2022, providing a critical evidence base on the experiences, aspirations, needs and concerns of Australians currently living and working abroad, as well as those who have returned. The survey results help industry and government better support, engage with and leverage the talent, connections and expertise of global Australians. The results also inform the ongoing programs and activities delivered by Advance, to connect, support and celebrate Australia’s diaspora.


Media Contacts
Johanna Pitman | Email | M: +61 406 344 578
Russell Reynolds Associates
Joann Chin | Email | M: +65 6496 0614


Advance is the non-profit organisation that recognises the success of Australians overseas and enables their voice to be heard in industry and policy discussions at home. Our mission is to foster ‘soft power’ and international engagement through our network of global Australians. Celebrating our 20th year in 2022, we are funded by government, corporate, and philanthropic partners. Our central annual program is the Advance Awards, which recognise outstanding Australians succeeding at the top of their field globally. Watch the 2021 Awards highlights here.

Russell Reynolds Associates

Russell Reynolds Associates is a global leadership advisory firm. Our 520+ consultants in 47 offices work with public, private and nonprofit organisations across all industries and regions. We help our clients build teams of transformational leaders who can meet today’s challenges and anticipate the digital, economic and political trends that are reshaping the global business environment. From helping boards with their structure, culture and effectiveness to identifying, assessing and defining the best leadership for organisations, our teams bring their decades of expertise to help clients address their most complex leadership issues. We exist to improve the way the world is led. Visit