The following provides key messaging for participants at the 2022 Jobs and Skills Summit on how refugee and humanitarian entrants can and do contribute to meeting Australia’s current and future challenges.
Refugees contribute significantly to Australia’s economy and fill important jobs and skills gaps
While the objective of the Humanitarian Program is to provide protection and a long-term solution to people found to be in need of protection, research has also clearly shown the significant contribution that refugee and humanitarian entrants make to the Australian economy, including in the areas of jobs and skills. This relates to:
- The younger demographic profile and long-term engagement in the Australian labour market of humanitarian entrants (i.e. youngest profile and lowest settler loss rate of any migrant group).
- Refugee-humanitarian labour force participation rates converges toward that of the Australia-born over time. The second generation performs at a higher level. Humanitarian entrants engage disproportionately in the labour force in some regional areas, and in industries where there are significant labour shortages.
- Refugee-humanitarian settlers show greater propensity to form their own business than other migrants and risk-taking, entrepreneurialism and an ability to identify and take advantage of opportunities is a key characteristic of the group.
- Refugee and humanitarian entrants facilitate the development of trade between Australia and their countries of origin.
There are challenges and barriers to employment that refugee and humanitarian entrants face
Barriers and challenges faced by refugee and humanitarian entrants seeking employment in Australia are well evidenced. These relate to:
- Job-seeker characteristics: English levels, need to upskill/retrain, particularly for those who have had limited opportunities to work/education pre-settlement, lack of Australian work experience, health and trauma recovery, understanding of and navigating Australian labour market.
- Labour market and other structural barriers: recognition of qualifications and prior experience, accessibility of recruitment processes, racism and discrimination, access to transport and childcare, ineffective job services.
- Immigration and visa status: There are many people whose visa status present significant challenges for accessing or sustaining employment in Australia, with employers hesitant to take on workers whose visa status is unclear or requires regular re-issuing. This includes:
- Over 100,000 people (94,358 people seeking international protection who arrived on a valid visa and 12,042 in ‘Legacy caseload’) currently in Australia and waiting for a decision, have been rejected, or have applications under review. A large number do not have work rights.
- 19,155 refugees on temporary protection visas (TPV or SHEV).
What works in facilitating refugee employment transitions
There is evidence of approaches that work in supporting refugee employment transitions. These include:
- Individual case management and referral services, particularly specialist services
- Mentoring programs with an employment focus
- Information and training on Australian work culture and systems
- Work experience programs
- Industry-related training targeting migrant and refugee communities
- Services providing career advice, planning and job search support
- Social enterprise and initiatives supporting small business development
- Services advocating and liaising directly with employers
- Services providing support with skills and qualification recognition
- English language classes with an employment focus; and
- Post-employment follow-up and support.
There are opportunities to more fully realise the potential of humanitarian-refugee migration
In the current context of low unemployment rates, there are opportunities for humanitarian entrants to contribute to the challenges currently facing the Australian economy and get a foot in the labour market door sooner with the right support. This could be done by:
- Increasing the size of the Humanitarian Program to 27,000 places within three years, with 5,000 additional community sponsorship places.
- Reinstating work rights for people seeking international protection as they move through the review and processing stages, and exploring options for alternative skilled visa pathways for those who have not been found to be owed protection.
- Granting refugees on temporary protection visas a permanent visa.
- Expanding and extending the Refugee Labour Mobility Agreement Pilot to 500 places in 2022-23, with a view to establishing an ongoing program able to meet private sector demand.
- Addressing refugee employment barriers and challenges through targeted investment in specialist employment services within the Workforce Australia program.
- Investing in programs that support refugee entrepreneurs and business development, to help people to set up businesses earlier on in their settlement journey.
- Reviewing qualification and skills recognition processes to ensure it is accessible and affordable for refugee and humanitarian migrants.
- Implementing findings arising from the development of a National Anti-racism Framework by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The Refugee Council of Australia welcomes an opportunity to discuss these ideas or work collaboratively with the Australian Government on progressing these ideas further.
 Hugo (2011). A Significant Contribution: The Economic, Social and Civic Contributions of First and Second Generation Humanitarian Entrants; Deloite Access Economics (2019). Economic and social impact of increasing Australia’s humanitarian intake
 Radford et al. (2021). Refugees Rejuvenating and Connecting Communities: An analysis of the social, cultural and economic contributions of Hazara humanitarian migrants in the Port Adelaide Enfield area of Adelaide, South Australia (Summary Report).
 Refugee Council of Australia (2010). What works: Employment strategies for refugee and humanitarian entrants