History of immigration from Thailand

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Map of Thailand
Map date: 2013
Thailand does not have a significant history of emigration, and the Thai community in Victoria remained small until recent decades.

Three people from Thailand were recorded in the 1901 Victorian census. The first notable Thai to arrive in Australia was Butra Mahintra, sent by King Rama VI during the early 1920s to purchase racehorses. Connections with Thai royalty developed further with the arrival of Prince Purachatra in 1927, leading a group tour of Australian agriculture and infrastructure.

Few more Thais arrived until the implementation of the Colombo Plan in the early 1950s, under which Thai and other students from the Asia and Pacific regions were able to study in Australia. They were only allowed temporary residence – with some exceptions, such as those who married Australians – and by 1966 the population of Thai-born in Victoria was still just 240.

Over the next decades the majority of new arrivals from Thailand continued to be students, as well as spouses of Australians and those sponsored under military traineeships.

During the 1980s the number of Thai students in Australia increased significantly, as a result of increasing wealth in Thailand and the growing prestige of international tertiary study. Between 1981 and 1991 the Thailand-born community in Victoria increased four-fold from 718 to 3,038 people.

The majority of new arrivals from Thailand between 1996 and 1997 immigrated under the Preferential Family category and therefore included both spouses and children of those living in Australia.

In 2011 the Thailand-born community in Victoria reached 10,766 people, with significant numbers living in the local government areas of Melbourne, Greater Dandenong and Boroondara. A high proportion are employed in professional, clerical, sales and service roles. Thai is the most common language spoken at home (58%), and Buddhism the most common religion (69%). Wats (temples) play a significant role within the Thai community, providing both a spiritual and cultural centre for members.

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