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 is an ongoing longitudinal study with annual data collections starting with participants' early months in Australia.
  • It is the first comprehensive study of its kind in more than a decade.
  • Data collection commenced in 2013.

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

The first three waves of data are now available.

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 via alternating waves of home visits and telephone interviews . The first wave of data collection ran from October 2013 to March 2014 and following waves have also run from October to March each year. Preparations are well underway for the fifth wave of data collection, due to commence in October 2017

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. In wave 3, data was again collected face-to-face and wave 4 was conducted over the telephone.

The first three waves of data are 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.



Ben Edwards, Diana Smart, John De Maio, Michelle Silbert, Rebecca Jenkinson; Cohort Profile: Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA): the longitudinal study of humanitarian migrants, International Journal of Epidemiology,dyx218.

Rioseco, P., De Maio, J., & Hoang, C. (2017). The Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) Dataset: A Longitudinal Study of Humanitarian Migrants in Australia. The Australian Economic Review, 50, 3, 356-362.

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.


Smart, D., De Maio, J., Rioseco, P., & Edwards, B. (2017). English skills, engagement in education, and entrance into employment of recently arrived humanitarian migrants (Building a New Life in Australia Research Summary). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Jenkinson, R., Silbert, M., De Maio, J., & Edwards, B. (2016). Settlement experiences of recently arrived humanitarian migrants (Building a New Life in Australia Fact Sheet). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

This fact sheet looks at the early settlement experiences of about 2400 humanitarian migrants who arrived in Australia in late 2013. Using Wave 1 data from the Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) longitudinal study, it describes key aspects of migrants’ lives including their experiences of trauma, education, employment and housing.

Selected presentations