Covid-19 brings global Australians home, creating new opportunities for employers

Global Australians returning home have chosen a variety of paths, but one fifth (17%) are still looking for work. Herein lies the opportunity for employers.



29/09/20 – Advance CEO with ABC’s Josh Szeps
  • 29 September 2020 | CEO Maria MacNamara speaks with the ABC’s Patrick Wood about the reverse brain drain > Read
  • 29 September 2020 | CEO Maria MacNamara speaks with the ABC’s Josh Szeps about the preliminary findings from the Advance Annual Survey of Global Australians > Listen
  • 30 September 2020 | CEO Maria MacNamara speaks with Ros Childs of the ABC about the early findings from the Advance Annual Survey of Global Australians > Watch
  • 5 November 2020 | Global Australian Jackie Lee-Joe speaks with the AFR Boss Editor, Sally Patten > Read
  • 6 November 2020 | Advance Chairman Yasmin Allen speaks with the AFR Boss Editor, Sally Patten > Read
  • 27 March 2021 | CEO Johanna Pitman shares survey results about returning Australians with The Age’s Zach Hope > Read

Media Release

Covid-19 changed the plans of many global Australians, causing up to two thirds of returnees to be back in Australia prematurely, a survey by reveals.

Analysis of the 2020 Advance Survey of Global Australians reveals that global Australians usually return to Australia when they plan to retire or when forced by personal life stages, such as children entering primary or high school, or when their ageing parents need support. But the pandemic has upended plans for many, bringing them home sooner than they may had planned for. The majority had been overseas for over 10 years, bringing fresh insights, experience and skills back into Australia.

In all, around 400,000 Australians have returned to their birthplace since March 2020. However, these global Australians reveal that reintegrating back into Australia hasn’t been an easy experience. Many report finding it hard to break in without an established business network, with nearly one fifth (17%) still looking for work.

A portion (20%) of these returnees are contemplating starting a business of their own. But mostly, they want to bring their skills into a company they believe in, and expect to hit the ground running.

But the biggest surprise since returning to Australia has been the lack of value placed around international experience, along with a cultural insularity and lack of diversity in leadership. Despite bringing home a wealth of knowledge, many returnees are either unemployed in Australia, or working remotely for their overseas employer.

Survey respondents reveal that employers tend to place a significant focus on who you know, rather than what you know. Half (51 per cent) agree that the most challenging part of returning to Australia is rebuilding their professional network.

Up to 35% of global Australians who came back during Covid may return to work overseas if they don’t find suitable work or feel settled in Australia. For them, the US (32%), UK (16%) and China (14%) are the likely destinations if things don’t work out in Australia.

Johanna Pitman, CEO of says the stream of highly skilled expats returning to Australia present an incredible opportunity to help the local economy recover from Covid-19. Upon returning to Australia, respondents report a vibrant venture community, with good funding and some great founders, who weren’t on the scene 20 years ago, she says.

Returning Australians have also noticed that businesses are stepping up to environmental and social issues more willingly, and that the social conscious movement for corporates is more genuine. For some returnees, the cost of schooling and healthcare is substantially lower than when they lived overseas, Pitman says.

In order the reap the rewards of expats returning home, employers and recruiters need to embrace a change in mindset to look beyond our borders and prioritise ability and skill when seeking new talent, she says.

“Since returning, some report being surprised about the lack of value placed on their overseas experience, and that recruiters and the companies they represent are still quite narrowly prescriptive about skillsets. Similarly, who they knew versus what they had achieved in their career was deemed more important,” Pitman says.

“Australian employers fail to recognise the value of offshore experience, and there has been a reported lack of diversity and inclusions. Many who came back during Covid-19 may return to work overseas if they don’t find suitable work, or feel settled in Australia,” she says.

“On occasions when expats are hired into senior roles, they have the skills and experience to help Australian companies expand and understand cultural nuances. So you’re getting the best of their overseas experience and ideas, which they’re injecting straight into your business,” Pitman says.

The perceptions of returning Australians gleaned from the survey provide a glimpse into the relative global competitiveness of Australia.

“These global Australians say that there’s still a lot that’s familiar, but job-wise it’s hard to find companies who value the breadth of experience they’ve gained overseas. They’re also struck by the lack of ethnic and gender diversity in senior leadership roles, and how relatively conservative and risk averse Australian organisations are,” she says.

More concerning were comments from respondents that felt Australia was highly insular, and behind global best practice. They observe how disconnected Australian companies are from Asia, and how behind our European peers the financial sector is here,” she says.

“As one respondent put it, our society sees Asia only as a cash cow. Without the true mutual respect and understanding of how to truly engage with our closest neighbours.”

With the survey taken in late 2020, global Australians returning to our shores have been buoyed by how well government, the community and businesses have banded together to get through the Covid-19 crisis, which they report not seeing anywhere else in the world, Pitman says.

Respondents expressed interest in a range of services, especially information about professional and board opportunities, and prospects to connect and collaborate with other Australians.

About the survey conducted the 2020 Survey of Global Australians from 1 September 2020 to 30 November, 2020.

The survey aims to understand the characteristics of Australians living overseas, the circumstances for when they return home, and document the effects of Covid-19 on global Australians. The 1,301 respondents provided insight into the professional lives, choices and perspectives of global Australians.

The Advance Survey also assesses expats’ ongoing connections to Australia and the needs of expats that could be best served by Advance.

Perceptions of Australia among this group cluster around three elements:

  • Lack of value placed around international experience
  • Positive, peaceful and well-governed society
  • Increased/troubling cultural insularity

The location of respondents reflects the geographic distribution of Advance overseas members – US (48%), UK (12%), Hong Kong (6%), China (6%), Singapore (4%), Canada (4%), Japan (3%) and France (2%).

Key findings

  1. 1 Most Australians overseas keep in close touch with Australia, continuing to consume media, and are interested in being updated about relevant events, particularly government police that might impact them (75%), current affairs (66%), stories about other global Australians (5%) and Australian breakthroughs (50%).
  2. 2 The career stage of survey respondents living overseas are manager (31%), CEO, president/C-suite executive (18 per cent), company founder/owner (14%), independent consultant/advisor (11%), early career/young professional (10%), board chair/non-executive director (5%), caregiver (3%), teacher/educator/professor (3%), medical professional (2%), student (2%).
  3. 3 The majority of Australia diaspora are located in the US (mostly New York), Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Singapore and London. Many Australians have returned home unexpectedly due to Covid-19.
  4. 4 The most common pull factors motivating a return home are lifestyle (57%), to be near family and friends (47%), to retire in Australia (32%), to raise children in Australia (34%), to care for ageing parents (32%), for career and business opportunities (16%), because Australia is Covid-safe (14%).
  5. 5 Global Australians who have returned to Australia plan to stay permanently (37%), stay in Australia under the borders open (12%), return overseas sometime in the future (35%), not sure/undecided (15%).
  6. 6 Returnees have mostly settled in NSW (46%), Victoria (22%), Queensland (13%), Western Australia (8%), South Australia (6%), and Australian Capital Territory (5%).
  7. 7 Half (48 per cent) of returned Australians want access and introductions to other returned Australians, information about roles on Australian boards (36 per cent), and information about job openings (24 per cent).
  8. 8 Returned Australians have chosen various paths, but 17% are still looking for work, while 36% are working in a new role in Australia, and 16% are working remotely for their employed based overseas.
  9. 9 Returned Australians work in a range of industry sectors, including financial and professional services (29%), information technology and telecommunications (16%), healthcare, research and science (10%), the public sector, social services and philanthropy (10%) and education/academic (9%).
  10. 10 These men (52%) and women (48%) have money to invest when they return, and found that 37% of global Australians who have returned to Australia plan to stay permanently, while 12% plan to stay until the borders open, and 35% will return overseas sometime in the future.