hidden immigrant

A hidden immigrant is naturally not easy to identify.

I met a man the other day who disclosed that he spent a significant portion of his childhood outside of Australia. I would never have known as he seemed just like any other middle-aged man…

Like unintentional chameleons, hidden immigrants blend into their cultural landscape appearing to be the same as everyone around them. But they are not! What makes them different? And why is it important to be aware that they are around?

What is a hidden immigrant?

In contrast to the obvious immigrant, the hidden immigrant does not appear to be different from those around them. On the surface they may seem to be native-born: similar accent, use of language, skin colour, fashion sense, customs and traditions… Their difference lies in the perspectives that have been shaped by life experience outside of their present cultural context. These perspectives may surprise or shock those who do not have a similar experience.

Who is a hidden immigrant?

Anyone can be a hidden immigrant. Two types, however, are most common:

  • A native-born person who has been away from their birth culture for a significant length of time – generally 2 years or more continuously; OR
  • A person who was born outside of their parents’ culture and has lived long enough away from their cultural heritage to have adopted an alternative cultural perspective.

Children can often be hidden immigrants due to their ability to quickly adapt to changing environments. That being said, adults can become hidden immigrants through relocation from and re-entry into their native culture. This can include relocations within one’s own country of birth…

The hidden immigrant experience

Being a hidden immigrant is double-edged.  On the one hand, it provides a rich perspective of the wider world.  On the other, it can present challenges in connecting with people in the current social context.

These challenges relate to the unspoken assumptions and understandings around the way the world works and how people should behave.  Where these assumptions and understandings differ from the accepted norm, conflict can be the result. Usually the hidden immigrant loses out on connection as a result.

Difference can be isolating.

Do you know a hidden immigrant?

Chances are that they are trying hard to fit in to a culture that they don’t fully understand. They may also be burying significant parts of their life experience in order to be accepted.   It can be a lonely experience and they could do with friends who accept them as they are.


If you recognise that you are a hidden immigrant and need a safe space to talk about your experience, contact us at Cynosure Support Services.