Building a New Life in Australia:
The Longitudinal Study of Humanitarian Migrants

Building a New Life in Australia is a long-term research project about how humanitarian migrants settle into a new life in Australia.

  • This longitudinal study will be conducted over 5 years, with annual data collections spanning participants' early months in Australia through to their eligibility for citizenship.
  • It is the first comprehensive study of its kind in more than a decade.
  • Data collection commenced in 2013 and will run until 2018.

The study has been commissioned by the Department of Social Services (DSS) and is managed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), with the fieldwork undertaken by Colmar Brunton Social Research in conjunction with Multicultural Marketing and Management.

Purpose of the study

The study findings will

  • identify factors that help or hinder the successful settlement of humanitarian migrants
  • assist in improving policy development and program delivery

Data from the first wave of the study are now available. It is anticipated that data from the second wave of the study will be available in early 2016.

Study participants

Close to 2400 individuals and families who had been granted a permanent humanitarian visa in the previous 3 to 6 months and were living in communities around Australia were recruited to the study. The majority were living in Melbourne and Sydney, but others came from 11 sites in every state and territory, including smaller centres, as well as rural and remote, areas.

These humanitarian migrants have diverse backgrounds and experiences, coming from 35 different countries and varied cultural backgrounds. Close to 50 differing languages are spoken in their homes. Their age ranged from 15 to 83 years. Almost all had arrived in Australia in 2013 to start a new life and they had experienced trauma and persecution before their arrival.

Data collection and data access

The study design is for information to be collected annually from 2013 to 2018 via alternating waves of home visits in Waves 1, 3 and 5 and telephone interviews in Waves 2 and 4. The first wave of data collection ran from October 2013 to March 2014 and the second wave ran from October 2014 to March 2015. Preparations are well underway for the third wave of data collection, due to commence in October 2015.

The survey instrument and participant materials are translated from English into multiple languages (14 differing languages were used in Wave 1). Approximately 90% of participants completed the survey in a language other than English in the first wave. The most common languages were Arabic and Persian.

In the first wave, participants could complete a self-interview using a computer tablet with audio support, or an interview with a bilingual interviewer. Close to three-quarters of participants chose to complete the survey independently using the computer tablet. In the second wave, telephone interviews with a bilingual interviewer were used.

The first wave of data is available to approved researchers from government, academic institutions and non-profit organisations. The BNLA data is being made available through an application process and will involve agreeing to strict conditions of use and signing a deed of licence. Details on how to apply for the BNLA data are available on the Department of Social Services website.

To accompany the release of the first wave of data, DSS have published a Data Highlight’ paper that describes who is participating in the BNLA study and some early findings from the study. Read the Data Highlight paper (PDF 235 KB)

Topics covered

Participants are asked questions covering a range of key domains, including demographic information, housing, language proficiency, education, employment and income, pre-migration experiences, health, self-sufficiency, community support, life satisfaction and life in Australia.


An overview of the project inception, methodology and preliminary findings from Wave 1 were presented at the 13th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference. Papers presented include:

  • The Birth of BNLA: Background to the Study, presented by David Smith, Director, Economic Analysis Unit, Department of Immigration & Border Protection and David Marshall, Project Manager, DSS
  • Methodological innovations for a complex population, presented by Saul Flaxman, Project Director, Colmar Brunton Social Research
  • Insights from the Building a New Life in Australia study: Cohort overview and preliminary findings from Wave 1, presented by Diana Smart, Senior Research Fellow, AIFS and John De Maio, Research Fellow, AIFS

Following the 13th AIFS Conference there has been significant media interest in the project, including print, TV, and local and national radio interviews, as well as an official media release in July 2014.

Presentations on the study were also given at the Australia Population Association (APA) conference, the ACSPRI Social Science conference in December 2014 and the Migration, Social Disadvantage and Health conference in February 2015 (this presentation is available on request by emailing the bnla team).

An overview of the project development and methodology was published in an edition of the AIFS journal Family Matters:

De Maio J, Silbert M, Jenkinson R, & Smart, D. (2014). Building a New Life in Australia: Introducing the Longitudinal Study of Humanitarian Migrants.Family Matters, 94, 5-14. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.