A reflection provided by Professor Fethi Mansouri, UNESCO Chair, Cultural Diversity and Social Justice.

COVID-19 is proving to be a truly transformational global crisis that is changing and will continue to change the way our social lives are structured and lived for years to come, if not permanently. It is not hyperbole to foreshadow that the world that comes out on the other side of this pandemic is going to be different, not only in terms of the intensity of our mobility, connections and interdependence but also at the level of individual and collective priorities.

Our research at ADI has shown that migration, and human mobility more generally, are not homogenous processes that deliver consistent outcomes for individuals on the move or the host countries where they end up settling. Indeed, what COVID-19 has exposed, in very confronting ways, is that certain types of migrants, those on temporary work visas, asylum seekers, international students even, are not able to access the kind of social support that is essential to weathering the lockdown and reduced economic opportunities and that has been made available to citizens and, to a lesser extent, permanent residents. 

All of this tells us that migration cannot be expected to revert in a post-COVID-19 world to the same patterns and levels seen before the pandemic. International mobility and cross-border movement will be approached differently, both by prospective individual migrants as well as by host countries. We are therefore expecting to see significant shifts in the dynamics of human mobility in Australia and internationally as the world moves gradually to more sustainable modes of operations at all levels and across all domains including labour markets and international student mobility.   

But do these new reconfigurations mean reduced levels of socio-cultural diversity in particular countries or across the world more generally? Perhaps the initial outcome of lower, more restricted patterns of mobility is that some forms of diversity will also be impacted, particularly in certain industries such as higher education and horticulture in some countries. But because of previous migration booms that have delivered to countries such as Australia significant numbers of migrants, to the point where we now have almost a quarter of the population being overseas-born, it is safe to assert that this diversity is nor reversible and that it will continue to enrich the social, cultural and economic fabric of our society for decades to come.

The challenge of COVID-19 was felt most adversely by Australians of Chinese/Asian backgrounds, who were subjected to the most abhorrent and unacceptable forms of overt racism you can imagine. Racism, as our previous research has consistently shown, cripples not only individuals but whole communities and becomes a serious impediment towards social cohesion and respectful intercultural relations.  As we envisage a post-COVID-19 social order in Australia and globally, and as we rethink the nature of development and ecological sustainability, we must also confront the most enduring of all epidemics, namely racism in all of its ugly manifestations and across all of its target groups.  And this is where research undertaken within migration and intercultural studies  and across all of ADI’s research programs will continue to play a significant, impactful  role in this  space.