Historical Background

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The Viet Nam-born Community

Historical Background

Vietnam was part of French Indochina from 1887 until its occupation by Japan in 1940 during World War II. Following the war, Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam's independence on September 1945. However, France reclaimed control until local rebellion led to the French Indochina War. After the French were defeated in 1954, and under the Geneva Accords, Vietnam was provisionally divided at the 17th parallel, with a communist government in the north and an American-recognised government in the south.

Failure of the Geneva Accords, particularly relating to reunification, and insurgency in the south led to further conflict, between the north and south. In April 1975, Saigon fell to the north and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was declared the following year. Many Vietnamese fled their country. In the following decade an estimated two million people fled Vietnam, initially seeking refuge in neighbouring refugee camps in south-east Asia and later resettling in Australia, the United States, France and Canada.

Prior to 1975, there were about 700 Vietnam-born people in Australia, mostly tertiary students, orphans, and wives of Australian military personnel who had served in (South) Vietnam. Refugee resettlement occurred during 1975-1985, followed by family reunion. By 1981, 49,616 Vietnamese had been resettled in Australia.

The composition of the Vietnamese intake changed in the mid-1990s with the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan of Action and streamlining of the Vietnamese Family Migration Program. Thereafter, the number of refugees seeking asylum in Australia declined.

The majority of the most recent Vietnam-born migrants to Australia have arrived under the Family Stream of the Migration Program.


Geographic Distribution

The latest Census in 2011 recorded 185,039 Vietnam-born people in Australia, an increase of 15.8 per cent from the 2006 Census. The 2011 distribution by state and territory showed New South Wales had the largest number with 71,838 followed by Victoria (68,296), Queensland (16,269) and Western Australia (12,715).

Age and Sex

The median age of the Vietnam-born in 2011 was 43 years compared with 45 years for all overseas-born and 37 years for the total Australian population.

The age distribution showed 2.4 per cent were aged 0-14 years, 7.5 per cent were 15-24 years, 43.9 per cent were 25-44 years, 37.9 per cent were 45-64 years and 8.2 per cent were 65 years and over.

Of the Vietnam-born in Australia, there were 84 806 males (45.8 per cent) and 100 231 females (54.2 per cent). The sex ratio was 84.6 males per 100 females.


In the 2011 Census, the top ancestry responses* that Vietnam-born people reported were Vietnamese (135,300) and Chinese (42,166).

In the 2011 Census, Australians reported around 300 different ancestries. Of the total ancestry responses*, 221,114 responses were towards Vietnamese ancestry.

*At the 2011 Census up to two responses per person were allowed for the Ancestry question; therefore providing the total responses and not persons count.


The main languages spoken at home by Vietnam-born people in Australia were Vietnamese (148,319), Cantonese (24,700) and English (5,970).

Of the 179 066 Vietnam-born who spoke a language other than English at home, 56.5 per cent spoke English very well or well, and 42.1 per cent spoke English not well or not at all.


At the 2011 Census the major religious affiliations amongst Vietnam-born were Buddhism (104,066) and Catholic (39,895).

Of the Vietnam-born, 14.6 per cent stated 'No Religion' which was lower than that of the total Australian population (22.3 per cent), and 3 per cent did not state a religion.


Compared to 62 per cent of the total overseas-born population, 74.5 per cent of the Vietnam-born people in Australia arrived in Australia prior to 2001.

Among the total Vietnam-born in Australia at the 2011 Census, 8 per cent arrived between 2001 and 2006 and 11.9 per cent arrived during 2007 and 2011.

Median Income

At the time of the 2011 Census, the median individual weekly income for the Vietnam-born in Australia aged 15 years and over was $390, compared with $538 for all overseas-born and $597 for all Australia-born. The total Australian population had a median individual weekly income of $577.


At the 2011 Census, 37.5 per cent of the Vietnam-born aged 15 years and over had some form of higher non-school qualifications compared to 55.9 per cent of the Australian population.

Of the Vietnam-born aged 15 years and over, 7.4 per cent were still attending an educational institution. The corresponding rate for the total Australian population was 8.6 per cent.


Among Vietnam-born people aged 15 years and over, the participation rate in the labour force was 61 per cent and the unemployment rate was 9.9 per cent. The corresponding rates in the total Australian population were 65 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively.

Of the 97,505 Vietnam-born who were employed, 40.8 per cent were employed in either a skilled managerial, professional or trade occupation. The corresponding rate in the total Australian population was 48.4 per cent.

Produced by the Community Relations Section of DIAC All data used in this summary is sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census of Population and Housing. Sources for the Historical Background are available on our website.
© Commonwealth of Australia.

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