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Defining Australia's boomerang factor

by Michèle Nardelli

Australian passportIdentifying just what the “boomerang” factors might be for expatriate Australian workers to come home is emerging as an important factor for Australian industries.

Results from longitudinal studies undertaken by UniSA Dean of Research in the Division of Business, Professor Phyllis Tharenou, with PhD researcher Natasha Caulfield, suggest there are some key factors that encourage workers to make the journey home.

Responses from more than 760 Australian expatriates who had been away from Australia for between three and 10 years showed that while 60 per cent said they planned to return to Australia to live permanently, overall they were not taking much action to return home.

"What we have found is that factors act to pull people back home rather than push people out of their overseas location and generally speaking those factors are personal and about relationships," Prof Tharenou said.

"Ageing parents, children reaching school age or high school age, illness or a death in the family in Australia, sometimes just coming home for a wedding or Christmas can trigger a desire to return.

"If your partner is also Australian, you are more likely to come home, and if your family, friends or even old business networks are constantly suggesting you return, that has influence."

Other return-predictability factors include current job dissatisfaction, whether or not you are in an English-speaking country and how much you identify as an Australian. Also, you are more likely to return as the number of your children increases and if they are foreign-born, and if you’ve stayed longer than you planned.

"Expats need to be sure there are good career or job opportunities in Australia and they would like to know that taxation rates won’t be too high, that their salaries will not take a dive, and that there might be some financial assistance to return," Prof Tharenou said.

"There is also a strong view that career opportunities at home won’t be as good and that Australian taxation rates are too high," she said.

"Other barriers include a strong satisfaction with the cultural and travel opportunities associated with living abroad."

So what can Federal and State Governments and leading industries do to encourage talented Australians to return home?

"There should be some ongoing communications that can be readily accessed so that expats maintain a sense of belonging and being Australian – an email network, ezine or some other form of regular communication from home," she said.

"Recruitment advertising to attract expats should leverage the emotional ties to home – catchlines that emphasise family will have impact – ‘How long since you have had a cup of tea with your mum?’ or ‘Come home for Christmas and we might convince you to stay for the New Year’ – because a visit back home or a longing for family will often focus the urge to return."

Prof Tharenou says there are also some very practical things that can be done to make a return more attractive.

"A simple one-stop online service that will allow people to get an idea of house prices, salaries, tax rates, job vacancies, school fees, partner job opportunities would be really helpful. Making the application for jobs much easier by using the ICT technologies available would also act as an incentive.

"Streamlining the visa applications of non-Australian partners, children and spouses is another encouragement.

"I think we need to realise that people don’t just automatically come back to Australia; some effort and planned marketing needs to be put in place to encourage them to return."

This study is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant and a PhD scholarship for the SA component by the State Government.