The price of ‘the Australian Dream’: What these skilled migrants gave up for life down under

Meeting world leaders including Barrack Obama and Xi Jinping was a regular experience back in Vietnam for Uyen Vu, a former foreign press officer for the Vietnamese government. 

Key points:Former Vietnamese diplomat Uyen Vu helps Australian businesses enter the Vietnamese marketDuy Nong traded an established career in Germany for a peaceful life in Australia Department of Foreign Affairs data shows the number of skilled visa approvals has dropped 38 per cent since 2016

Ms Vu worked hard for years to purchase a luxury apartment and open an English school in Vietnam's capital of Hanoi. So, why did she give up this comfortable life in exchange for the land down under?

"My life was filled with joy but I knew I was capable of much more, so I decided to challenge myself," Ms Vu said.

"Many Westerners often think of Vietnamese people as the disadvantaged and relying on foreign aid, and I saw this as a chance to change the stereotype."

Ms Vu migrated to Australia in 2017 to enrol in a Master of Laws at Macquarie University on a scholarship for South-East Asian talents.

A group of photos showing a young woman at work in diplomacy in Vietnam
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry's press officer Uyen Vu met international politicians on a regular basis at work in Vietnam.(Supplied: Uyen Vu)

"[My family and colleagues] were worried I would not be able to survive and succeed in the new environment as I had done in Vietnam," she said.

"I wanted to prove them wrong and their doubts became my motivation.

"The Australian journalists on my field trips always boasted that Australia is where everyone will be rewarded for the best effort, and I wanted a clean slate to gain fresh perspectives and renew myself."

'A bridge between Australia and my homeland'

When she first arrived, the 29-year-old law student found many business opportunities in Australia.

"Many Australian businesses have a misconception that Vietnamese people are poor and cannot afford high-end Australian produce like Chinese consumers," Ms Vu said.

"As Vietnam has become a middle-income country, there is great demand for high-quality products and not enough Australian businesses have taken advantage of this."

As a result, Ms Vu established an export service to help Australian agricultural producers penetrate the Vietnamese wholesale market.

"Most Asian business relationships are built on rapport, and I can use my connections with Vietnam's top businesses to help Australian producers gain their trust and bring some of Australia's finest produce [such as cherries and blueberries] to my people," she said.

On the left, a photo of a young woman in a white dress. On the right, two women stand together in an office
Uyen Vu now runs a trade promotion service helping Australian agricultural producers enter the Vietnamese market. Uyen Vu and Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Robyn Mudie.(Supplied: Uyen Vu)

Education is another Australian export for Ms Vu to promote to Vietnam. She is now working on an EdTech [educational technology] platform to bring online learning from Australian universities to Vietnamese students.

"Being a bridge between my homeland Vietnam and second home Australia is my way to repay both communities for my privileges," Ms Vu said.

Ms Vu, now an Australian citizen, said she experienced a sense of shock in her early days in Australia.

"It was a whole new world that I must learn to adapt to because no-one knew me and cared about who I was in Vietnam," she said.

"My Vietnamese qualifications and credentials were not recognised, so I felt like I hit a brick wall at times when turned down by hundreds of potential business partners."

'You have to push yourself many times harder than the locals'

The start to life in Australia was also full of challenges for Griffith University's Associate Professor Duy Nong — one of The Australian's Top 5 early-career researchers in 2020. The research scientist moved to Australia in 2011 for his Master's and PhD degrees in climate change economics.

"To survive in a foreign country, you have to push yourself many times harder than the locals," Dr Nong said.

Two young people in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Duy Nong and his wife had to juggle three jobs for up to 14 hours a day to support their early life in Australia.(Supplied: Duy Nong)

"I had to work over 14 hours a day from 5am, juggling research, postal and hospitality jobs to support our study here.

"There were times when I felt like collapsing, but I always reminded myself never to take for granted the opportunity to live and study in Australia."

Upon completion of his PhD, Dr Nong had to leave Australia in 2016 to find employment as a researcher at Colorado State University in the United States and then a lecturer at the University of Bonn in Germany.

Two people stand for a photo in front of a castle in Germany
Life in Germany was good but Australia felt more like home for climate change economist Duy Nong.(Supplied: Duy Nong)

"There were very limited vacancies in my field of research in Australia," he said.

"I was a little heartbroken upon departure and told myself that I would make it back to Australian shores one day.

"I tried really hard to acquire a visa and return to Australia, but there were many hurdles for people without citizenship and PR to be accepted and find employment here."

The latest statistics from the Department of Foreign Affairs show a 38 per cent decline in skilled visa approvals from around 128,000 in 2016 to 79,620 in 2020.

Why Australia?

The opportunity came for Dr Nong in 2020, when the CSIRO was looking for a research scientist to develop economic models to study food systems and climate change policies in Australia and abroad.

"Leaving Bonn was the toughest decision I have ever made in my life because my career was on the rise but Germany never truly felt like home."

"I feel at home in Australia, because being here puts my mind at ease, so I can fully utilise my skills and enjoy peaceful family time."

Dr Nong said Australia's geographical position attracted many South-East Asian scholars.

"Australia is close to Vietnam, our home country, so it is easy for us to visit our parents, relatives and friends," he said.

"Australia's world-class and well-developed education, healthcare, infrastructure, and social systems are great drawcards.

"It is a perfect blend between nature and civilisation."

Posted 30 Oct 202130 Oct 2021Sat 30 Oct 2021 at 12:38am, updated 30 Oct 202130 Oct 2021Sat 30 Oct 2021 at 1:10amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp


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