Working in Australia as a refugee: What we know
What do we know about the experiences of people in the workplace when they have just come as refugees, or when they have temporary protection visas? Settlement Services International answers that question in a paper published in March 2016, Working It Out. This comes at an important time, because of major policy changes including:
- people seeking asylum in Australia are now being granted the right to work, and those who are being found to be refugees are being given temporary protection visas
- there have been major changes to employment support services, and
- Australia is bringing in 12,000 refugees from the crisis in Syria and Iraq.
There are many things that influence whether a person can find work in Australia. While there is not yet good evidence for those working on temporary protection visas, there is good evidence about the challenges and strengths of refugees with permanent visas.
What are the challenges in getting work?
For refugees, the major problems in finding work are:
- they do not have work experience or social networks in Australia
- their skills and qualifications are often not recognised in Australia, and
- their English language skills.
In the first years they are here, refugees are likely to suffer from unemployment and underemployment. Biases in the job market mean they are funnelled into low-skilled and low-paid jobs. This can lead to a cycle of poverty and disadvantage.
These problems are also likely to apply to people who hold temporary protection visas, but the problems may be worse because they do not have a permanent visa and are not able to get the same support services.
What are the strengths?
Refugees have been shown to be more enterprising and innovating than those who come through Australia’s migration program. It will be harder, however, for those on temporary visas to use that potential because of the lack of security of a temporary visa.
While many refugees struggle in their first years, over time their job prospects get better. Importantly, their children do even better than those born in Australia in finding work. This reflects the success of Australia’s model of integrating and settling refugees.
What are the opportunities?
Refugees have made, and continue to make, a significant economic and social contribution to Australia. If offered the opportunity, people who are arriving now or getting temporary protection visas can make a stronger Australia. What we need to do is focus more closely on fulfilling the potential of refugees and those on temporary protection visas, which will benefit them and the Australian economy and society.