Refugees are Australia’s most entrepreneurial migrants and are almost twice as likely to be entrepreneurs as the wider Australian population. Despite this, both current policy and refugee settlement services focus on other forms of employment and rarely encourage entrepreneurship as a potential avenue for refugees in Australia.
A new report by the Centre for Policy Development (CDP) and Open Political Economy Network (OPEN) shows that supporting refugees in Australian to launch new businesses could result in nearly $1bn a year added to the economy within ten years. An increase in refugee businesses results in jobs for both refugees and locals as well as increased local and international trade. Celebrating refugee entrepreneurship also has the important outcome of helping to dispel fears that refugees are a burden on local communities.
Benefits of entrepreneurship for refugees and communities
Entrepreneurship by refugees has social and economic benefits for both refugees and the community. Self-employment offers refugees the psychological boost, social status, and pride of being a business owner. It also provides more opportunity to build connections in their community and to improve their English skills. The community gains added fiscal benefits such as increased access to products and services, jobs, increased tax revenue and decreased welfare spending.
Despite the lack of support currently available, refugees who start businesses generate a higher median income from their businesses than Australians in general. Some start businesses due to necessity; others after identifying an opportunity that locals have missed or translating previous experience to an Australian context.
Currently there is little access to training, mentoring, and support from federal and state governments. While some non-governmental organisations do offer programs, they lack both scale and funding and are generally limited to those in Sydney and Melbourne.
How to support refugee entrepreneurs
The report, titled Seven Steps to SUCCESS, outlines a number of recommendations to improve the support available to prospective refugee entrepreneurs in the following broad areas:
- Coordinate a strategic approach to present entrepreneurship as a viable option in all publicly-funded initiatives.
- Offer prospective entrepreneurs upskill via business and language training or acquisition of local business licenses.
- Support refugees to make connections both with other refugee entrepreneurs to share knowledge and with potential customers and markets.
- Provide access to capital via government backed loans to lower the biggest stumbling block of lack of funding.
- Lift regulations and welfare barriers that impede entrepreneurship by continuing welfare payments for the first year of business and creating additional visa places for refugee entrepreneurs.
- Target support both to different stages of business and different groups such as young people, women, and those in regional or rural areas.
- Finally, highlighting successful refugee entrepreneurs helps inspire others and create a more positive narrative about refugees in Australia.
These recommendations would work together to create a more supportive environment for refugee entrepreneurs in Australia and their local communities.