The Maltese Diaspora: Changing Faces of Malta Abroad

Introduction: Some Landmarks in the history of migration[1]

The aim of this introduction is to emphasize the changing pattern of migration and to give some idea of the movement of people that occurred particularly during the first three-quarters of the 20th century, until 1975, described as a water-shed in Maltese migration, when more people started to return to Malta than leave it.

            1.1: Migration to the USA

Already in 1911, the Passport Office had issued passports to 438 emigrants (mostly for California),[2] and New Orleans.[3] That migrants were less than adequately prepared for this venture may be gleaned from Dr Mattei’s recommendation that migrants who could not speak English should carry around their neck a piece of cardboard with his name and his destination written on it! One can only imagine the impression that these migrants must have made on the local population! This picture has been caricatured in Juan Mamo’s book,  Ulied in-Nanna Venut fl-Amerka. Migrants had to be healthy (many failed because of trachoma) and possess at least 25 dollars on landing.

Post-WW1, Malta suffered a severe economic depression. Employment with the Admiralty, 15,000 at its peak, was slashed and the majority could not find a job.

For a couple of years (1920-1921) the floodgates to US opened and around 3000 Maltese left for the US ‘el dorado’.  But this flow soon came to a stop with  the ‘First Quota Law’ of May 1921, which limited the annual intake of immigrants to the US to 3% of the number of foreign-born persons living in the US in 1910. Further restrictions were introduced in 1924, with the Johnson-Reed Act which reduced the annual intake to US to 150,000. The actual result was that by1928 only 60 Maltese could enter the US, with preference to family reunion. This was later raised to 380 by 1929 and to 540 two years later.[4]

With the massive economic depression that hit the US in the late 1920s, many migrants found themselves without a job and returned home. Emigration to the US remained static at very low levels until after the second world war when there was another wave of migration (1948: 654, 1950: over 1,000; 1951: 1,293). Between1946-1952 almost 5,000 migrated to the US. Severe restrictions followed the introduction of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Maccarran-Walter Act, 1952) and migrant numbers fell to 683 and later to below 300 pa.

Because of the limited migration to the US since the early 1950s, the number of Maltese-born migrants in the US is currently around 8,000[5] scattered over the main cities, particularly, Detroit, New York, and San Francisco.

            1.2: Migration to Canada

In the early part of the 20th century, Canada required ‘farmers’ who were used to and prepared to work on the largely virgin and uncultivated land. As Attard points out,[6] the definition of ‘farmer’ has distinctly different meaning in Malta and in Canada or Australia. In these countries it refers to large landowners often owning thousands of acres for grazing sheep or cattle, or for cultivating crops on a large scale, as opposed to ‘farmers’ in Malta who are usually small-scale market gardeners.

Since 1923, through the Privy Council Order, Canada had kept Maltese out of Canada. By1939 there were about 1000 Maltese in Toronto, with smaller groups in Windsor and London, and to a lesser extent in British Columbia. Even by 1945, Canada was averse to accepting Maltese. On March 1st 1948, an agreement was reached between Malta and Canada to allow 500 men from Malta to migrate to Canada (their families would be allowed to follow as soon as the men felt well-settled).  Between1945-1975, about 20,000 Maltese went to Canada. In some years (1951, 1964 and 1965), the number of migrants reached over 1000 pa.

The success of Canada as a place of settlement depended on choice of migrants  imposed by the selection criteria, which also required some knowledge of English. The Government of Malta paid 75% of the fare at one time and the British government provided some grants. Each migrant paid only 10 pounds, teenagers half price, and young children were free. After 1961, economic conditions in Canada declined and Maltese migration fell to 371 in 1962. However, between 1963 and 1965, the number of migrants entering  Canada reached 3,199.

1.3: Migration to UK

Unlike the USA or Canada, the UK was always open to migrants from Malta. And yet, most Maltese did not find it so attractive as a place to settle. In the aftermath of WW1 there was a marked wave of migration. Between 1919 and 1929 there were 3,354 migrants to the UK but at least 1,445 (43 percent) returned home. Following WW2 there was an ‘economic miracle’ in the UK, attracting many immigrants. Between 1946 and 1976 no less than 30,870 migrants left for the UK. In 1955, nearly 2000 Maltese left for the UK. Migration continued at high levels till 1967, but by 1977 the number fell to double digits.

Migration to the UK was particularly attractive to those who spoke English well, who had been employed by the armed forces and knew their habits. Again return migration was highest from the UK compared to other host countries, perhaps because of the shorter distance from the home country, and also perhaps reflecting the type of migrant that chose to go to the UK in the first place.

Many migrants to the UK were unaccompanied males, resulting in an unfavourable sex ratio (M:F = 2.6:1). The reputation of (some) Maltese in London left much to be desired and Mr John J Cole, as Minister for Emigration at the time was asked to ensure that migrants were better selected. This no doubt resulted from the fact that migrant selection was least restrictive to the UK. It has been stated that those with a known shady past had no problem migrating to the UK. Support for migrants was provided by individuals like Fr Dominic Coppola as Chaplain to Maltese in London who was responsible for setting up The Mission House (Maltese Centre) in the East End, and later in Victoria. The Maltese Culture Movement  was set up in 1998 largely through the efforts of  Mr Bernard Scerri as the main personality involved. Other migrants settled in Chatham, Portsmouth, Cardiff, and in Lancashire.

One must mention in this context the settlement in the UK of several Maltese who found themselves homeless after the 1956 Suez debacle. The refusal of Malta to grant asylum to these refugees constitutes one of the darkest episodes in Maltese migration history.

            1.4: Migration to Australia

In spite of the perceived disadvantages, particularly related to distance and relative isolation, Australia has proved to be the most popular place for settlement.  To start with, in the first decades of the century, Maltese often made their own way, at their own expense, with very little preparation. At best they found work which others did not want, hard work in the cane fields of Queensland, building roads and railways or digging coal and minerals from mines. They had to face antagonism from most sections of the Australian community, and in particular from the unions who looked on these ‘coloured’ workers[7] as scab labour replacing their own boys fighting in Europe.[8] Anti-Maltese sentiment was rife. One migrant, Mr Pace was quoted as saying: “You cannot live anywhere. Go where you wish, sooner or later you get insulted, or worse than this, you get called Maltese”.[9] In the newspaper Truth, Maltese were described as “dusky interlopers, unable to speak English and nurtured from birth in customs and surroundings which preclude them from becoming fit associates for the people of this country”.[10]

After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), Australia granted a yearly quota of 260 migrants, later increased to 393. By 1927 it was stated that there were close to 4,000 Maltese in Australia.[11] By 1944 this had increased to about 12,000 Maltese in Australia.

After the war, things began to improve considerably. This was the result of marked lobbying by people like Henry Casolani, Captain Curmi,  and John Cole, and reflected a marked changed in the Australian political atmosphere, when Mr Arthur Calwell became Minister for Immigration in 1945.

Also of great help was Australia-Malta Passage Assistance Agreement signed on May 31, 1948, becoming effective from August1948. Adults contributed 10 pounds for a passage to Australia, and those between 14-19 contributed 5 pounds, while children travelled free of charge.  They had to stay for a minimum of two years, otherwise they had to pay back the balance. This resulted in a wave of migration averaging 2000 a year until 1975. In 1954 alone there were 8,470 migrants. Between 1949 and 1982, 46,644 Maltese availed themselves of this assistance. At its height, in the 1980s, the total population of Maltese in Australia was over 56,000.

Why did this most unlikely place become the most favoured place for Maltese migrants? A combination of factors could be responsible: better selection of migrants, family migration which ensured stability, distance which discouraged returned migration –which was least for Australia compared to the other countries closer to Malta. Also the Australia-Malta passage scheme discouraged returned migration in the crucial first two years of migration, after which migrants were more likely to be settled and used to the way of life of the new country.

            1.5: EU Migration[12]

After Malta joined the EU in 2004, there was a considerable influx of Maltese migrants into Europe, reaching some 500 by 2010. There are three distinct groups among these. The largest group is made up of those who went there for work, largely in institutions associated with the EU. The second group is that of students whose number is increasing with time. Thirdly there is an increasing group of university students under the Erasmus program or else studying for a few months or obtaining work experience.

Joseph Chircop notes: ‘For the greater part of us… the move from Malta [to the EU] is intrinsically different from that of emigrants, and I think that I would not be wrong when I say that many Maltese that went to Belgium or Luxembourg  do not consider themselves as emigrants but as expatriates. Thus, every attempt at analysis of these Maltese youth requires a perspective and thought which is different from those used with emigrants.’

‘Our status is one where amongst others, we do not pay tax in Belgium or Luxembourg and are not included in the social security system of the country … because the European Union provides for the protection of social services.’

‘These expatriates have a tendency to visit their country often and keep themselves up-to-date  with what is happening.’

Table: Maltese living in various countries[13]:

Country           1st Generation             Ancestry            Total

Australia[14]       43,708                         153,805            197,513

Canada[15]         30,000                         75,568             105,568

EU[16]                  —–                           ——                       500

NZ[17]                     363                             914                     1,277

UK[18]                30,178                         76,016             106,194

USA[19]             14,405                         36,286                 50,691

Totals              118,654                       342,589            461,743



Migration in the 20th century has been dominated by a tendency for Anglophone countries to become the recipients of migrants from Europe,  with varying resistance, at least initially, to those from southern Europe.

The changing pattern and structure of the Diaspora is readily seen from the above brief summary. Firstly, one can notice the changing pattern of migration with peaks in post-war periods and troughs in-between. Secondly, the effects of legislation in the various host countries which tended to impose quotas to suit their own purposes, but which had dramatic effect on countries with people anxious to emigrate. Thirdly and importantly,  the lifting of discriminatory legislation had an important bearing.  Too often Anglophone countries tended to restrict migration to persons of the same ilk, placing embargos on southern Europeans which were described as ‘coloured’ or otherwise unfit to work in their countries. The heroic performance of Maltese during WW2 softened this view considerably. Likewise the growing realisation that restrictive practices such as the ‘White Australia’ policy were discriminatory, resulted in a more equitable society.

From the migrant point of view, there were massive changes over the years. From the barefoot, uncouth and illiterate peasant of the 1920s to the professional person of the late 20th century there was an enormous jump which resulted from a grim determination of the original migrant to grapple with impossible odds, including insults, scorn and lack of acceptance, as well as a will to ensure that their children do better than themselves. This is illustrated in studies which emphasize clearly that one major aim of migrants was to ensure that their children faced a better future than they ever did.[20]

This change often takes more than one generation to achieve, but has, in general, resulted in a vision of Malta by the average outsider as an interesting producer of very desirable, hardworking and committed  workforce.


  1. What has Malta gained through migration?

For the first three-quarters of the 20th century Malta was constantly under economic stress, relieved only during the war years. Migration was considered to be the only way to relieve the situation, the ‘safety valve’. This was particularly the case in the immediate post-war periods of 1920s and again in 1950s-60s. The Maltese newspapers were very vocal on this point:

  • ‘Emigration is the sole panacea, for to find work in Malta for these redundant lads, is obviously out of the question.’ (Daily Malta Chronicle10.1910)
  • ‘We have always been of the opinion that emigration to suitable places under fair conditions is the main safety valve to relieve the economic pressure prevailing in these islands.’ (The Malta Herald, 9.04.1913).

These pressures were still prevalent in the second half of the century, again as seen in the comments and editorials in newspapers:

  • ‘We must remember that the island’s population is increasing by about 8,000 a year. We must increase the number of emigrants by thousands more.’ (Il-Berqa, 01.1951).
  • ‘Let no one forget the fact that the standard of living now available in Malta and Gozo cannot be maintained, much less improved, unless emigration on a big scale is continued’. (Governor R. Laycock, 2.02.1957).

It was only by mid-1970 that these pressures were eased and net migration loss came to an end. After 1975 – the watershed year – more migrants returned than left the Island.  So for the first three-quarters of the century, migration helped Malta maintain an acceptable standard of living through control of population size. It is interesting to note that between the end of WW2 and 1980s, the population of Malta remained static at around 300,000, and only afterwards did it start its meteoric rise again to reach the current level of over 400,000.

A second important result was the direct financial benefit resulting from remittances sent by migrants to their home country. Migrants, especially lone males who often were the ground-breakers, sent all the money they could spare to their families back home. These remittances reached considerable levels and were comparable in amount to the GNP. This inflow was maximal in the 1970s and 80s but continued well into the 1990s and dwindled thereafter.[21]

Currently there is still a net inflow to Malta from pensions coming from overseas. For instance, the amount of pensions paid by Australia to pensioners living in Malta is three times the number of pensions paid by Malta to pensioners living in Australia.[22]

A frequently forgotten asset has been the benefits associated with returned migrants. While they are often considered as failed migrants, this is certainly misleading. They bring with them their small fortunes and use them to build houses, often palatial,  supporting employment and having a positive effect on the economy. They also bring with them their experiences, knowledge and expertise which is made available to all. All the island, but particularly Gozo, has benefited from this.

Several attempts have been made to tap the expertise of Maltese living overseas. One of the earliest experiments was the setting up by the University of Malta  of ‘TOKTEN’ (Transfer of knowledge through expatriate nationals). Many migrants have been involved in projects in Malta, thus helping in the building of the country. This has been obvious in the field of medicine in particular but all higher education has depended on Maltese being trained overseas for a longer or shorter period of time. More recently, there have been several attempts to provide links between the University of Malta and academics overseas, and in particular with Victoria University (Melbourne).

Malta has also taken advantage of the better facilities for preparing youngsters for sporting activities and has actively recruited Maltese-background youth to participate in international sport representing Malta. This has resulted in considerable achievements by Malta in the international arena.

Malta has benefited through having such a large contingent of ambassadors overseas. There has been a quantum jump from the barefoot hungry peasants that left Malta in the 1920s (caricatured by Juan Mamo), to the highly qualified second generation persons to be found in all walks of life.[23] On his recent visit to Australia, the Prime Minister Mr Gonzi referred to “the valid contribution that Maltese migrants have given, and continue to give, to uphold its [Malta’s] name and image in various spheres of life”.[24]

Maltese have been strong advocates of multiculturalism, through their involvement with ethnic groups, including the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV), the Ethnic Affairs Commission of Victoria and service on several important committees, including education, police, and multicultural affairs. For a period of about ten years (1980s-90s), there were no less than three Maltese who held the post of chairperson of the ECCV[25] (these were Anthony Bonnici, Maurice Cauchi and Victor Borg). The late Anne Dimech was very active in the ECC of NSW. In the words of the current Australian High Commissioner for Malta, Mrs Anne Quinane, the Maltese migrant community in Australia, “has contributed greatly to the development of a multicultural Australia.[26]

On his visit to Australia in 2007, the Prime Minister Dr Lawrenc Gonzi  remarked: ‘Perhaps Malta should tell migrants more often about how important they are to their country of origin – how important they have been, and continue to be, not just to the development of Maltese culture in general, but even to the development of Maltese culture in Malta itself’.


  1. The ‘Greater Malta’ Concept

Laurent Ropa (Wenzu Rapa, 1890-1967), a well-known French poet and novelist, was born in Xaghra, Gozo, but his family emigrated to Bone, Algeria in 1893 when he was only two years old. He fought with the French in 1914 and remained in France after the war. He is known for his novels which often have a Maltese background.

Ropa was the first to refer to the ‘Greater Malta’ concept.  His idea was to create a federation of Maltese organisations, to encourage unity among them and to maintain cultural ties with Malta. His concept also included the writing of the history of the Maltese Diaspora.[27]

The current concept of ‘Greater Malta’, includes this, but is something much more comprehensive. It is a concept referring to a united body of people comprising both those living in Malta and those living overseas. It emphasizes the need of ensuring that Maltese living overseas are in effect treated as full Maltese citizens with all the rights of Maltese citizens. This would ensure that:

  • Closer links are created between Maltese wherever they happen to live, in Malta or overseas;
  • Ensuring that all Government Departments, including Ministerial portfolios, give consideration to the concept of Maltese abroad in all their actions, particularly in formulating new legislation;
  • There is to be no discrimination between Maltese living in Malta and those living abroad. Issues which currently involve different measures include taxation rates, accessibility to health card for travel to EU countries, etc;
  • Liberalisation of Malta’s nationality law to cover overseas-born Maltese with a right to citizenship to all those descendants of Maltese abroad who can prove Maltese ancestry. This has already been achieved.[28]
  • Representation of Maltese living overseas at decision-making (legislative) level. This is probably best achieved through a Parliamentary Secretary within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The alternative of having elected members from overseas sitting in the Maltese Parliament, as is the case with several countries in Europe, is less attractive, as it is considered divisive, expensive and impractical;[29]
  • Overall, this concept requires re-education and a shift in mentality among the Maltese living in Malta itself to ensure that all are part of one body;
  • Protection of the rights and interests of Maltese living abroad.

With increased globalisation, the increased mobility of Maltese around the world, and related sharing of human capital, the concept of ‘greater Malta’ makes perfect sense.

As part of this concept, it is important to ensure that Malta is well represented overseas. Up to now, and in contrast to many other countries, Malta has had no Cultural institute along the lines of the British Council, the Goethe Institute, Alliance Francaise or the Dante Alighieri Council whose function has been to promote dissemination of culture and language, and to raise the profile of a country within another, where migrants form a substantial number.

On 2nd December 2011, an Act was promulgated  ‘to establish a Council for Maltese Living Abroad which shall have the function of protecting and promoting the rights and interests of Maltese living outside Malta, and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Article 11(e) of this Act states that  ‘The Minister may make regulations …. to establish a Maltese Cultural Institute for the promotion of Maltese culture outside Malta.’ Since then, the responsibility for this Institute has passed under the aegis of the Minister for Culture, but to date (July, 2016) no steps have been taken to set up such an institute.

  1. Citizenship issues

Citizenship laws both in Malta and in the host countries have affected migrants in several ways.  Before independence in 1964, Maltese were considered British citizens and carried a British passport, of which they were quite proud.  However, over the years, host countries began to emphasize the need for new arrivals to apply for host country citizenship, which often meant that one had to renounce their Maltese citizenship. Despite this, by 1981, 42.6% of Maltese in Australia had taken Australian citizenship,[30] a figure which is  much higher than that of other ethnic groups such as that for citizens from the UK, for instance.

The original Constitution of Malta (1964) prohibited dual citizenship. This was also the practice in host countries like Australia. The New Electoral Requirements announced in 1984 stated that  “From January 26 British subjects from Commonwealth countries will need Australian citizenship before they can enrol to vote.” This meant renunciation of their original (ie. Maltese) citizenship, a step which many were very loath to take. Giving up one’s Maltese citizenship was an emotional decision which very few were prepared to take, but many were obliged to when applying for certain jobs in the host country.

It was not until 2000 that dual (and multiple) citizenship was allowed by Malta. Maltese who had lost their citizenship were suddenly reinstated within the fold. As this did not entail any action by the citizen himself or herself, it was not deemed to go against the regulations of the host countries.

One specific problem was encountered by returned migrants. Australian-born children had to apply for Maltese citizenship (and renounce Australian citizenship) in order to find employment in Malta.[31] This group of people found it impossible to apply for Australian citizenship if they decided to go back to their country of birth. Legislation was amended in 2007 when the Australian Citizenship Act came into effect.  This made it possible for those who had renounced their Australian citizenship to reapply for citizenship. This affected about 2,000 Australia-born Maltese living outside Australia

Following considerable agitation on the part of the leaders of Maltese abroad, an important step was made in 2007, namely the extension of Maltese citizenship to all those who could show a direct (uninterrupted) relationship with a Maltese ancestor. This was indeed received with a great sense of relief, particularly by those who were born overseas, and especially those, like Maltese from Egypt, who had felt alienated and forgotten by the Government of Malta.

                        Table:  Time-line of legislation relating to Maltese Citizenship[32]


  • 1964: Constitution (Chap III) prohibited dual or multiple citizenships)


  • 1965: Maltese Citizenship Act, chapter 188 of the Laws of Malta: regulates acquisition of Maltese citizenship by registration and naturalisation


  • 1974: Act LVIII amending the Maltese Citizenship Act and Constitution of Malta after Malta became a Republic


  • 1975: Act XXXI amending the Maltese Citizenship Act: some amendments to naturalisation


  • 1977: Act IX amending the Maltese Citizenship Act: Prohibits acquisition of CHECK


  • 1989: Act to amend the Constitution; Act to Make Double Citizenship, and Act about emigration.  Mere birth in Malta does not suffice to confer citizenship at birth but requires Maltese descent by at least one parent.  Acquisition of citizenship by adoption.


  • 2000: Act III Allows dual and multiple citizenship.


  • 2007: Act X amending the Maltese Citizenship Act. Introduces the right to dual or multiple citizenship for second- and subsequent- generation Maltese born outside Malta and living abroad;



In summary, Maltese Citizenship can now be obtained either through marriage of a foreigner to a Maltese spouse, or through parentage, however distant, as long as it is not interrupted. Thirdly, long residence (18 years) in Malta also qualifies one to apply for citizenship. Since 2004, over 2,000 of the 2,817 new Maltese citizens in the last four years (71 %) became Maltese citizens either by marriage or through parentage (from birth to a Maltese parent).[33]


  1. Culture and Language Maintenance

            5.1: Culture Maintenance

While the first generation has maintained what culture they brought with them, including language, which most of them speak among themselves, the same cannot be said about their children who, with only some exceptions, have lost their ability to speak the language, even if maintaining some ability to understand it.

Culture is more difficult to define. One can speak of ‘popular culture’ versus ‘high culture’ without attaching any value-judgement to such a dichotomy. The former refers largely to the mode of everyday life of the population, including aspects of daily life, Maltese cuisine, sport and entertainment, religious life, festas etc. The latter refers to art, literature, history, and related intellectual heritage.

It can be stated that popular culture thus defined is alive and well among members of the first generation, and usually lasts until they die. By contrast, the subsequent generations tend to be less interested in these activities and tend to shift to the dominant culture of the host country. While the major form of entertainment for the first generation was the regular (even weekly) dinner dance, the younger generation prefer pubs, discos, and other mainstream activities etc.

Pre-Independence (1964) there were few attempts to transfer any form of ‘high culture’ to the general public in Malta itself, and this was the preserve of the educated few. Migrants involved in the major migrant exodus of the 1950s and 60s, reflecting the general situation in Malta at the time, were quite unaware of the outstanding heritage that they should have been proud to posses. They felt no great pride in belonging to a new-born nation and preferred to emphasize and identify with a British nationality. The majority of migrants had left Malta well before this rinascimento and hence carried with them a very lean cultural baggage.  Even now, they have very little knowledge of new developments largely because of the very meagre means of Maltese television available overseas. Events and personalities which  have caused the name of Malta to become catapulted all over the world, have not, to any great extent, penetrated into the lives and psyche of the Maltese abroad.

This has been a major failing, a lost opportunity which hopefully, if belatedly, will be corrected through the establishment of a Cultural Institute to promote Maltese culture beyond the Maltese shores.[34]

The question has to be asked as to whether the majority of second and subsequent generations need their parental culture. As I pointed out some years ago,  “it has been argued that maintenance of culture is crucial within an ethnic community, but it has not been so clear as to whether this is considered necessary merely for the peace of mind of the first generation or whether it confers some specific benefit to the second generation persons themselves.”[35]

That youth today have other priorities was emphasized by Marlene Galea at the recent Convention held in Malta where she stated: ‘The needs of the Maltese community have changed: 40-50 years ago, there was a need to find support within the community, creating a social aspect….. There was a more insular need to create networks and to socialize – to stick together. Today, however, this is no longer a priority’.

           5.2: Language maintenance

Language maintenance is considered to be an integral part of culture and identity maintenance. And yet, this is one aspect of culture that is most likely to disappear first. Even first generation (Malta-born) individuals are likely to lose their language if they arrive young within a host country. For instance, already by 2006 the census in Australia showed that only 58 % of Malta-born persons speak Maltese at home.

Factors which are likely to increase tendency to language loss include:

  • Concentration of speakers. There is a direct correlation between size of a community and language retention.
  • Strength of identity: the stronger the belief in one’s cultural background, the more likely that language is maintained. This results from greater emphasis on language teaching, the provision of language schools, as well as insistence of use of language at home. Examples: Vietnamese and Greek children in Australia speak their native language even as grown-ups.
  • Mixed marriages, (and particularly a non-Maltese speaking mother), tend to be associated with increased tendency to language loss.

On the other hand, where there is complete isolation from a dominant language, Maltese language is more likely to be retained. This is the case with isolated farming communities in North Queensland, for instance, where Maltese is still spoken.


           5.3 Identity maintenance

There have been tremendous changes in the way Maltese have been perceived overseas over the century. In the early days of the history of migration, Maltese had generally very low self-esteem, and could often be seen wandering, barefoot and bewildered, in the various metropolises around the world.

With time, they earned a well-deserved reputation as hard workers, in mines and on cane-farms, laying railway tracks, the car-making industry in Detroit or the tilling of virgin land anywhere. They built their homes, often with their own hands and started businesses like poultry farming or pastizzi-making on a large scale.[36]

The greatest negative impact of this lack of pride in one’s background and achievement has been on children of the first generation who have found it very difficult to achieve parity in educational studies. Several surveys carried out in the 1950s[37] showed the readiness with which young students were prepared to ditch every vestige of Maltese identity in their effort to integrate within the host society.

Today, Maltese overseas can be identified only by their accent. As Fr Lawrence Attard states “it is clear that our identity appears most when we speak with a foreign tongue”.[38]

As for culture loss, it is arguable whether loss of a Maltese identity has any bearing on the personal and social development of young Maltese persons living overseas. For most of them, their background has no significant bearing on their identity which is primarily forged by their experiences within the new community.

  1. Conclusions

The 20th century has seen dramatic changes in the Diaspora which has increased at a rate much faster than the population of Malta itself. For the first half of the century, in the pre-war migration period,  the few thousands who left the Islands brought a considerable amount of economic relief to their families at home but hardly impinged on the population size of the country. On the other hand, the post WW2 exodus was crucial not only as a source of much-needed foreign currency (which at times was equivalent to the total GDP), but also as a major safety valve to check the growth of the population. In fact, the population of Malta between 1950 and 1975 was kept static at around 330,000, due to the massive outflow of migrants.

It is a fact that the presence of the hundreds of thousands of Maltese abroad has not resulted in an increased economic traffic between Malta and the Diaspora countries. Exports and imports to and from countries like Australia and Canada accounted for  less than 1 % of the total.

There have been also seismic changes in the mentality of those at home as well as those overseas. Political views have changed from a shrugging of shoulders and surrender of any responsibility for the migrant in the early post WW2 period to a mature sense of responsibility by politicians in the last couple of decades resulting in highly significant changes in legislation relating to health, citizenship, culture maintenance, etc.

The question now is, what sort of relationship would best suit Malta and the Diaspora to bring out the best possible outcome for both?  There is no doubt that this is the age of the internet and rapid communications, so that there should be no excuse for lack of communication and misunderstandings.  As Prof Joe Friggieri put it: ‘through the internet our children and young adults can re-examine and possibly revise their attitudes towards personal and cultural identity’.[39] He continues, saying that countries like Australia, Canada and the UK ‘sought to promote integration, interculturalism and social cohesion, in order to create the kind of society where people from the most diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds can live and work together in harmony and without fear.’

With the acceptance of and increased emphasis on the concept of ‘Greater Malta’ it is hoped that relations will improve to the benefit of both Malta and the Maltese in the Diaspora.


[1] This section is largely based on the several publications of Fr Lawrence Dimech, and in particular, Beyond Our Shores,2007  which, with his other publications on the subject, constitute the most comprehensive source of information about Maltese migration that has so far been written.

[2] Attard Lawrence,  Beyond our Shores, p 107

[3] Mark Caruana, pers. Comm..

[4] Attard Lawrence, op. cit. p 119.

[5] Larry Zahra: ‘Present Situation in the United States of America’, in Proceedings and Report. Convention 2000,

[6] Attard Lawrence, op. cit. p 133

[7] ‘The White Australia Policy’ was implemented in 1901. This policy was considerably relaxed after  WW2 and formally abolished in 1975 with the Racial Discrimination Act.

[8] The best example of this relates to the migrants on the Gange when, in 1916,  240 Maltese migrants were refused permission to land and were taken to New Caledonia for several months before eventually being brought back to Sydney.

[9] quoted by Attard,  op .cit. p 185.

[10] (Truth, 29.5.1922)

[11] Attard Lawrence op. cit. p 189)

[12]  See Joseph Chircop: Convention for Maltese Living Abroad. 2010 – Translation.

[13] After Borg V and Borg-Manché,  Convention for Maltese Living Overseas, 2010)

[14] Australia: Census 2006

[15] Canada: Census 1996 for Malta-born (1st generation), and estimate for ancestry.

[16] Joseph Chircop, Pers Comm. (Belgium, Convention 2010.

[17] New Zealand: Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 1st generation, and estimate for ancestry data.

[18] UK: 2001 census for 1st generation and estimate for ancestry data.

[19] USA: estimate for 1st gen, and America Community Survey 2008 for total figures.

[20] See for instance: Terry L. et al:  “To Learn More than I have…”  Maltese Community Council of Victoria, 1993.

[21] See Cauchi, M: The Maltese Migrant Experience Maltese Community Council of Victoria, 1990.

[22] According To HE Francis Tabone (Convention for Maltese Living Abroad, 2010), Australia pays 4041 Pensions in Malta ($27m), while Malta pays 3848 pensions ($10m) in Australia.

[23] For a study of achievements of Maltese in Australia see Cauchi Maurice N.: Maltese Achievers in Australia,  Maltese Community Council of Victoria, 2006.  Se also:  See Also: Three generations of Maltese in Australia: A picture through surveys of the population,

[24] Text of speech prepared by Dr Gonzi to be given at Victoria University of Technology, 2007)

[25] Bronwyn Hinz: Many Hopes, One Dream: the story of the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria . Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2009.


[27] This has now been written by Fr Lawrence Dimech in his several books on Maltese migration.  See also Charles A. Price: Malta and the Maltese: A Study in Nineteenth Century Migration. Gerogian House, 1954. To note that this concept is closer to the definition of FOMA as developed at the Convention for Maltese Living Abroad, held in 2000, than to the current concept of ‘Greater Malta’.

[28] According to the Hon Tonio Borg, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, since 1989, 16,000 persons now have the right for Maltese citizenship as a result of reforms in citizenship legislation (Convention 2010).

[29] For a discussion about the various models of representation of migrant groups within their original country see Borg, Victor G., & Borg-Manche’ Edwin: The Critical Role of Government in Maltese Diaspora Engagement. Convention of Maltese Living Abroad 2010.

[30] Census  1981.

[31] Subsection (1) of Section 28 of the Malta Constitution provided that if a person on reaching the age of eighteen years is a citizen of Malta and also a citizen of some other country, such person must renounce the citizenship of such other country before he attains the age of nineteen years if he wishes to retain the status of a Maltese citizen.

[32] (

[33] James Debono, Malta Today on Sunday 16 August, 2009:

[34] As promised by the Hon Tonio Borg at Convention for Maltese Abroad, 2010.

[35] Cauchi, Maurice, N. Maltese Achievers in Australia, 2006, p 371.

[36] See particularly paper by Mark Caruana: Maltese Heritage in Australia (Convention for Maltese Abroad 2010).

[37] See M Cauchi: Maltese migrants in Australia for further details about reports about education, school retention rates, participation in tertiary studies in 1980s.

[38] Fr Lawrence Attard, Il-Kultura Maltija fost Ħutna Msifrin. Convention for Maltese Living Abroad 2010. It is amazing how easily Maltese accent can be picked up by foreigners. One could even detect the typical posh accent derived from certain private schools as a unique Maltese educational product.

[39] Prof Joe Friggieri: Education and the Internet: a wide-angle perspective, Convention for Maltese Living Abroad, 2010.

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