Refugee Council of Australia
Parliament House, Canberra

Submission to the inquiry into regional development and decentralisation


Settlement of refugees and humanitarian entrants in regional Australia: background and context

History and trends

Traditionally, most migrants and refugees have settled in metropolitan areas where there are more employment opportunities, more suitable infrastructure and established social networks.

However, the settlement of refugees in non-metropolitan areas has a long history in Australia. In the aftermath of World War II, those arriving in Australia from Eastern Europe under Displaced Persons program were required to work in pre-assigned locations for the first two years. Many of the pre-assigned locations were non-metropolitan areas where there was a shortage of labour. In the 1970s and 1980s, when a high number of Vietnamese refugees arrived in Australia, many were directed to regional areas.

More recently, greater emphasis has been placed by the federal government on the settlement of refugees and humanitarian entrants in regional areas, especially those without family links in metropolitan areas. That has considerably increased the number of humanitarian entrants resettled directly in regional areas, with the number of people in this group growing from five percent in 2001 to 20 percent in 2011.

Feedback from our member organisations and refugee communities confirm that, on many occasions, after living in metropolitan areas, refugees and humanitarian entrants choose to move to regional areas for work and lifestyle reasons. Unfortunately, the available data on this secondary migration is very limited, providing little information on the number of people who move to regional areas and the areas they choose to move to.

Current and existing research

There is existing research that highlights the challenges and opportunities of refugee settlement in regional Australia. RCOA compiled this research in an annotated bibliography published in 2011, and is currently updating this document.

In the past two years, the Settlement Council of Australia (SCOA) and the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council of Australia (FECCA) have both published reports on regional settlement. In its policy paper, SCOA explored the challenges of regional settlement and made several recommendations for creating more sustainable settlement. Adding to its 2012 issues paper on regional and rural settlement, FECCA published two reports in 2015. One focused more broadly on migration to regional areas and how it can be successful, and the other assessed the effectiveness of government services in Shepparton in Victoria from the viewpoint of new and emerging refugee communities in that area.

In contrast to the relatively substantial body of literature on primary regional settlement of refugees, research on secondary movement of this group remains limited. RCOA is currently undertaking research on regional mobility. While this research inevitably looks at direct refugee settlement, our research will emphasise the drivers and success of secondary movement of refugees to (and from) regional areas.

RCOA began this research after hearing from member organisations, refugee communities and people seeking asylum about higher rates of secondary migration of refugees and people seeking asylum to regional Australia. One of the recent successful examples of this secondary migration is the relocation of a number of Rwandan families to a small town of Mingoola, on the border of New South Wales and Queensland, which reinvigorated the once-dying town.

The introduction of the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) is also likely to increase secondary movement to regional Australia. RCOA aims to assess the impact of this new visa, especially in NSW where the state opted into this visa scheme earlier than in other states and territories.

Safe Haven Enterprise Visa

In late 2014, the Australian Government announced that it would be creating a new temporary protection visa, called SHEV, for those who arrived in Australia by boat and are found to be owed protection. The Government announced that this visa would be valid for five years and was designed to encourage refugees to move to regional areas. To be eligible for a SHEV, a person must declare an intention to work or study in regional Australia.

NSW was the first state to opt into the SHEV scheme in July 2015. By October 2016, all states and territories announced the postcodes which would be part of the scheme.

People who arrived in Australia by boat after 13 August 2012 (and were not transferred to an offshore processing centre on or after 19 July 2013) can apply for one of the two temporary visas: a SHEV or a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV). Further, those who arrived in Australia by boat before 13 August 2012 and applied for a permanent protection visa, but whose application was not finalised before 18 September 2013, are only eligible for a TPV or a SHEV.

There are more than 30,000 people in this group. Not all of them will apply for or be granted a SHEV. Further, the applicant only needs to declare an intention to work or study in regional Australia, meaning many SHEV holders may not eventually relocate to regional Australia. However, this new visa is likely to encourage people to move to regional and rural areas.

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