Immigration from what is today known as Malaysia first began during the mid 19th century, with many finding work in the pearling industry. Others worked in South Australian mines, agriculture and in the cane fields of Queensland. Despite the high demand for Malay workers in Australia, the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act
in 1901 severely curtailed the growth of this community.
There was a slight increase in the size of the community during World War II when people were evacuated from British Malaya. Most arrivals were of European descent. In the post-war period, Malaysian students were given temporary residency under the Colombo Plan
. By 1966, 2,434 Victorians were of Malaysian birth.
After the Immigration Restriction Act
had officially ended in 1973, Australia became a more favourable destination for Malaysian immigrants
, largely ethnic Chinese. The number of students continued to increase, and some chose to stay in Australia after completing their studies.
The largest number of Malaysia-born immigrants
arrived in Australia after 1981, under the Family Reunion Program or as skilled or business migrants. In 2011 there were 39,778 immigrants
from Malaysia in Victoria, the majority of whom lived around Glen Waverley, Balwyn and Doncaster and inner Melbourne. While 27% identified themselves as Buddhist, there has been a rapid growth of Christianity, now 40% due to recent arrivals. Today, most members of this community are professionals, while many others are clerical, sales and service workers. Cantonese (26%) and English (29%) are the two most common languages spoken at home followed by Mandarin (25%).