Refugee Council of Australia
Citizenship ceremony

Settling in Australia: The challenges


Finding work is one of the highest priorities for refugees in Australia. Most are eager to work and bring skills and experience. Yet, all too often, they find it difficult to get stable, secure and fulfilling work.

Workplace issues

They face many challenges. Those who have limited English find it much harder to get work. Research suggests there is a direct correlation between levels of English proficiency, labour market participation rates and income.

Many employers do not recognise work experience overseas. They ask applicants to show similar employment in Australia. Many new arrivals struggle to get the jobs that allow them to get that experience.

It is also very expensive and complex for people to have overseas qualifications recognised in Australia. Others have not had the opportunity to get qualifications or work, because they have been in refugee camps, detained or moving from place to place in search of safety.

Generalist employment services, such as jobactive, are ineffective in supporting this group in finding work.

As well, a lack of knowledge of Australian workplace culture and systems makes it hard to find and keep employment. For example, Australian employers expect prospective employees to ‘sell’ themselves and their experience in interviews. This can run counter to the values and norms of some communities who are taught to value modesty and to defer to authority.

The Australian workplace is also increasingly a difficult place to get stable, secure work. Economic and employment conditions, including declining protections for employees, make it more difficult to find and keep good jobs.

Transport and family

Another problem is that housing costs and shortages mean most people from refugee background are not close to transport that can get them to jobs. Some jobs (such as industrial cleaning or factory work) mean they have to work at times when public transport does not run.

Women also are more likely to need to look after family, especially children and elder relatives.

Settlement pressures and discrimination

People in need of protection are likely to have experienced torture and trauma, destitution and long periods in refugee camps. This means they may not be ready to work soon after they arrive.

They are more likely to have chronic physical and mental health problems that make it difficult for them to get and keep jobs.

Finally, racism and discrimination is another reason why people in need of protection find it difficult to get and keep jobs in Australia.

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