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Introduction

Refugees and migrants come to Australia with a wealth of skills, experience and aspirations. They are committed to pursuing employment as a means of ensuring economic security and contributing to their new home. Often these groups have been forced out of their homes due to war and unrest, and many have experienced persecution, unemployment and interrupted schooling. However, they face multiple barriers in applying their skills and experience, and in fulfilling their aspirations, within the Australian labour market.

Screenshot of search for Jobactive providers in Fairfield
Logo of Fairfield Multicultural Interagency

This report, co-authored by Fairfield Multicultural Interagency (FMI) and the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), focuses on the barriers faced by refugees and migrants imposed by the main federal employment program, Jobactive. The report’s findings are based on 102 case studies collected by FMI and supplemented by national consultations conducted by RCOA.

Executive summary

Refugees and migrants come to Australia with a wealth of skills, experience and aspirations. They are committed to pursuing employment as a means of ensuring economic security and contributing to their new home. Often these groups have been forced out of their homes due to war and unrest, and many have experienced persecution, unemployment and interrupted schooling. However, they face multiple barriers in applying their skills and experience, and in fulfilling their aspirations, within the Australian labour market.

This report focuses on the barriers faced by refugees and migrants imposed by the main federal employment program, Jobactive. By the term ‘refugees and migrants’, we include those who have been recognised as refugees or have come here under Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, as well as those who have come on other visas (for example, as family members, skilled workers or students) who come from similar backgrounds and face similar disadvantages.

The term ‘migrant’, as it is used in this report, does not refer to all migrants on these non-humanitarian visas, as they will not all face similar disadvantages. In particular, those who come from English-speaking countries with similar cultural norms (for example, English migrants) are unlikely to face the kinds of barriers outlined in this report.

This report records the many barriers with the existing Jobactive program. The report’s findings are based on 102 case studies collected by the Fairfield Multicultural Interagency (FMI) and supplemented by national consultations conducted by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA).

The first part of this report focuses on barriers caused or made worse by the introduction of the Jobactive program, including:
• Lack of specialised service
• Choosing between learning English and looking for work
• Streaming and the Job Seeker Classification Instrument (JSCI)
• Compliance measures and implications
• Limited support with resumes and interview skills
• Job Plans and lack of understanding of rights and responsibilities
• Under-use of interpreters and lack of translated materials
• Inappropriate Work for the Dole placements
• Over-reliance on, and lack of support for use of, technology to look for work, and
• Being treated with disrespect.

The second part of this report identifies some longstanding barriers to employment. These include:

• Lack of opportunities to attain relevant Australian work experience
• Difficulties in the recognition of prior qualifications and experiences, and
• De-skilling than upskilling.

The findings of this report confirm the need for a targeted approach to address the complex needs of this cohort. This finding is consistent with previous research and with the findings of RCOA’s previous report on employment, What Works.

We have described some of the innovative and specialised employment initiatives designed to address the employment needs of migrants and refugees in an Appendix to this report. While this list is not exhaustive, they are useful examples of specialised and needs-based initiatives that take a targeted approach. Typically, they include elements such as: integrating Australian work experience; strengthening on-arrival support and post-employment support; collaboration; and personalised assistance such as casework and mentoring.

While we make recommendations to improve the existing Jobactive program, our view is that it will be difficult to properly address the specific needs of refugees and other migrants within a general national program. We therefore make four key recommendations:
• Develop a national multicultural employment strategy
• Review the effectiveness of the Jobactive program for refugees and migrants, and improve the program accordingly
• Invest in targeted employment programs, and
• Build and share knowledge about what works.

Our recommendations

Recommendation 1: A national multicultural employment strategy

The Australian Government should develop a national multicultural employment strategy that incorporates a whole-of-government approach. This strategy should ensure the appropriate linking and collaboration between settlement, education and training and employment services. It should identify areas for targeted investment in employment transition programs for refugee and migrant jobseekers.

Recommendation 2: Review and improve Jobactive program

The Australian Government should commission an independent review of the effectiveness of the Jobactive program in meeting the needs of refugee and migrant jobseekers, and develop a plan to address key areas for improvement identified in this review.

Recommendation 3: Invest in targeted employment programs

The Australian Government should review their funding of employment transition programs with a view to increasing investment in targeted employment programs.

Recommendation 4: Learn and shareknowledge

The Australian Government should invest in research and platforms for sharing knowledge about effective employment programs that result in better outcomes for refugee and migrant jobseekers.

Read the full report

Read the report (PDF) Read the report (html)