Australia s settlement services for refugees and migrants

Current Issues

Australia s settlement services for refugees and migrants

E-Brief: Online Only issued 9 June 2006; updated 19 September 2006

Adrienne Millbank, Analysis and Policy
Janet Phillips
Catherine Bohm
, Information/E-links
Social Policy Group


Australia s first federal Department of Immigration was established in 1945. Since then, almost six million migrants, including over 645 000 refugees, have settled in the country. Source countries have shifted from the UK to Northern Europe, to Southern Europe, to the Middle East and Asia. Today, 24 per cent of Australia s population is overseas-born, and 40 per cent has one or both parents born overseas. Australia s population is drawn from about 185 countries and over 200 languages are spoken at home.

The aim of settlement services is to assist new migrants to participate as soon and as fully as possible in Australia s economy and society. Settlement services and programs have been provided by the Commonwealth government since the post-war migration program first began. They have expanded and evolved over the last 50 years as the population has grown increasingly diverse, and within over-arching policy frameworks that have evolved from assimilation, through integration, to multiculturalism.

Today, Australia s multicultural programs and services are funded via many commonwealth and state agencies, and cover a wide range of activities and structures, including ethnic radio, SBS TV, grants to ethnic schools, anti-discrimination tribunals, advisory committees, community language teaching and inter-faith dialogues. Multicultural services administered through the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs include the Living In Harmony initiative, including Harmony Day; the Access and Equity strategy (see the Fairer Government Services and Programs website), and the Diversity Works! Program.

Australia s current settlement services comprise a range of programs and services such as; English language tuition, interpreting services and accommodation and health services.

Over the last 10 years, the bulk of permanent migrants have been skilled and English-speaking, and settlement services have increasingly focussed on refugees and humanitarian settlers who have arrived under the annual Humanitarian Program. These humanitarian settlement services are delivered via the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy.

This electronic brief provides an overview of Australia s settlement services for migrants and humanitarian entrants, and a guide to internet resources, research and comment on current settlement issues in Australia. It also provides information about the development of settlement and integration services overseas.


In 1945, the government of the day established Australia s first Department of Immigration in order to manage the post-war migration of migrants and displaced persons. Settlement services began to be developed from the outset. The most recent official history of the development of Australia settlement services is in the Department of Immigration s 2003 Report on the Review of Settlement Services for Migrants and Humanitarian Entrants, particularly the first chapter. Some of the background described in this report is outlined below.

In the early post-war period, migrants and refugees were expected to assimilate and blend into the population as quickly as possible. The government s assimilation policies were based on an assumption that this would not be a difficulty for new arrivals. Settlement assistance was limited to the provision of migrant hostels and some language tuition.

By the 1960s and 1970s, the phrase goals of assimilation was replaced by goals of integration , in recognition of the fact that adjusting to a new way of life might not be easy for everyone, and that new arrivals may not want to lose their cultural identity. The Department of Immigration expanded language and other settlement services as a result. The Child Migrant Education Program, the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) and the Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications were all established in these years.

In 1978, following the Galbally Review of Post-Arrival Programs and Services to Migrants, there was another shift in the policy framework for managing cultural and linguistic diversity, towards multiculturalism. Existing settlement services (English language teaching, on-arrival accommodation and orientation assistance, interpreting and translating services, assistance with overseas qualifications recognition) were expanded, and new programs and services were introduced (including ethnic radio and the SBS, Migrant Resource Centres and grants to ethnic community organisations.) The National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia adopted by the government in 1989 defined official multiculturalism and emphasised the need to both respect cultural diversity and further assist new migrants to settle in the country.

In 1991 the National Integrated Settlement Strategy was introduced to better coordinate settlement services across commonwealth and state portfolios and departments and non-government agencies.

James Jupp s The Australian People: an encyclopedia of the nation its people and their origins provides more historical background. Other immigration research is listed on the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) website.

Review of Settlement Services

In August 2002, the Hon Gary Hardgrave MP, the then Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, announced a Review of Settlement Services for Migrants and Humanitarian Entrants. The resulting Report on the Review of Settlement Services for Migrants and Humanitarian Entrants was released in May 2003. For a concise summary of the report follow this link.

The review outlined the history of immigration to Australia since 1945 and the resulting demographic changes and compared government policies with other countries with formal migration resettlement programs, such as Canada, New Zealand and the USA. It is worth noting that currently only about 20 countries participate in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement program and accept quotas of refugees on an annual basis. In 2004, of the main countries which resettled refugees through UNHCR the USA accounted for 63 per cent, Australia 19 per cent, Canada 13 per cent, Sweden 2 per cent, Norway 1 per cent, Finland 1 per cent, and Denmark 1 per cent. Taking into account both UNHCR resettlement figures and other humanitarian intakes, in 2004 the USA admitted the largest number of resettled refugees (52 900), followed by Australia (16 000) and Canada (10 500) (Sources: UNHCR, 2004 Global Refugee Trends and Refugees by numbers, 2005). For details on what resettlement means see the UNHCR publication Refugee resettlement: an international handbook to guide reception and integration, written by the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (VFST) and funded by the Australian government in 2002. The latest summary of Australia s resettlement policies is in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Resettlement Handbook .

The Report on the Review of Settlement Services for Migrants and Humanitarian Entrants also discussed cultural diversity and policy implications and outlined some of the difficulties faced by settlers and their different settlement experiences.

A taskforce, chaired by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, was established in July 2003 to consider issues arising from the review and consultation with stakeholders has been ongoing ever since. One of the major recommendations of the review was that the Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) and Community Settlement Services Scheme (CSSS) funding program be replaced by a Settlement Grants Program (SGP).

In March 2006 the government released the National Framework for Settlement Planning, followed in August by a national report on Settlement needs of new arrivals 2006. The report includes settlement arrival statistics, specific settlement needs experienced by refugees and a section on currently funded government settlement programs. State and territory reports were also produced and are available from the department's website.

Settlement Grants Program

From 1 July 2006, CSSS and MRC funding will be replaced by the Settlement Grants Program (SGP). A Settlement Grants Program Discussion Paper, outlining the general policy framework of the SGP and the planned consultation process was released in April 2005, and followed up with community consultations in the states and territories. A final report, the Settlement Grants Policy Paper, was released by the department in 2005.

During the Settlement Grants consultation process in 2005, new national priority settlement needs were identified by the department in consultation with the community, the settlement service sector, and local, state/territory and Commonwealth government agencies. A new National Framework for Settlement Planning was launched in March 2006 and specific 2006 07 settlement needs for every state and territory are listed on the website.

The department will administer the new program and every applicant for funding must sign a funding agreement and agree to performance monitoring by the department.

Current entitlements for newly-arrived migrants

Any newly arrived migrant may be eligible for a wide range of settlement services such as assistance in accessing medical services, Centrelink, Job Network, the First Home Owner Grant and so on.

Specific settlement programs funded and coordinated through the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), comprise:

  • English language tuition through the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP)
  • on-site and telephone interpreting and translating, through the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS)
  • financial grants to community and service organisations/programs such as Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs) and the Community Settlement Services Scheme (CSSS), through the Community Grants Program.
  • humanitarian settlement services through the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy. The Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS) was established in 1997 98 to provide a more targeted approach to settlement services for humanitarian entrants. Follow the link to see the criteria and services provided.

Community-based service providers

A variety of community organisations and service providers are funded, through the Commonwealth DIMA, to deliver community-based settlement services. DIMA consults with these community organisations on a regular basis.

In the case of the IHSS, service providers are contracted to the department to deliver on-arrival reception, counselling, and accommodation services. Volunteer groups also work with service providers to support entrants and assist them to settle into the local community.

The government also provides funding for the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) which contracts out to service providers whose professional skills are recognised by the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI).

A list of currently funded CSSS service providers and MRCs is available on the DIMA website by following these links. The CSSS page gives details of currently funded projects and contact details of the funded organisations. The MRC page includes details of both Migrant Resource Centres and Migrant Service Agencies (MSA) that are currently funded. There is also a list of MRCs by state and territory.

Details on funding allocations are available from the Commonwealth Budget Papers, particularly the Immigration Portfolio Budget Statements. See, for example, the Immigration Portfolio Budget Statement, 2006 07, Section 3.

Current funding specifically for CSSS projects and MRC funding allocations are on DIMA s website.

Current issues

The Review of Settlement Services for Migrants and Humanitarian Entrants in 2003 identified several areas where Australia s settlement services could improve, including a need for better coordination between state and commonwealth service providers, and less duplication of services. DIMA also regularly consults with community settlement service providers and the Refugee Council of Australia on current settlement concerns and recieves the annual submission Current issues and future directions: views from the community sector.

Language barriers, economic difficulties, housing barriers, unemployment and cultural barriers, can pose problems for some new migrants and refugees to such an extent that the hurdles seem insurmountable. Refugees are particularly vulnerable and can arrive with very specific health problems and language or cultural barriers, making it difficult for them to settle healthily and happily into the community. Some may have been tortured or experienced other trauma either before or during their journey here for example. Although migrants usually have access to our health services and refugees have access to more intensive health assistance such as trauma counselling, some argue that the level of understanding by health providers and other service providers is inadequate. It should be noted that refugees with serious health problems that may be significantly costly to the community might not pass the health requirement at all and access to health care for some asylum seekers is very restricted. There are also specific concerns for refugees settling in regional areas, including isolation, poverty and vilification.

In spite of the settlement services available to new migrants and refugees, those who have been in the country for less than five years are often at a disadvantage when it comes to finding work. In June 2005, there were 36 400 unemployed migrants who had arrived in Australia between 2001 and 2005, most of whom were from non-English speaking backgrounds. Those from the Middle East and Africa, in particular, have much higher unemployment rates which may lead to disaffection and community unrest in the long run if not addressed. Some suggest that the Cronulla race riots, for example, were the result of disaffection from certain community groups with low educational and occupational opportunities.

Refugee and humanitarian resettlement from Africa

There are currently specific concerns for African refugees arriving in the country. In 2004 05, 70 per cent of the offshore humanitarian visas granted were to African refugees, many of whom are sent to areas where the numbers of African refugees have swelled from nothing to several hundred in the space of only two or three years. Previously, our humanitarian intake was primarily from Europe and the Middle East. Despite the extra attention the recent refugees from Africa are receiving in the planning and delivery of settlement services, there has been some concern expressed by refugee advocates and other members of the community that Australia has not been adequately prepared to cope with the special needs of African refugees arriving with poor education, poor health, poor language skills and a history of brutalisation and trauma from years of civil wars and refugee camp experiences. A recent book by Peter Brown, The longest journey: resettling refugees from Africa, describes in detail some of the appalling conditions some African refugees have experienced and outlines attempts by Australia and the international communty to cater for their specific needs.

Bridging Visa E (BVE) and Temporary Protection Visas (TPV)

Some asylum seekers (those who have not applied for refugee status within 45 days of arrival, or who have been released from detention, or who are pursuing appeals against negative decisions through the courts, or appealing to the Minister) are excluded from even basic welfare payments. They are in the community on Bridging Visa E, and therefore ineligible for most government entitlements. Concern for this situation has been expressed by many organisations, and some are suggesting that their exclusion from settlement assistance is placing a huge burden on many charities and community organisations, on whom they are reliant on for assistance.

Refugees on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) (those who have been granted refugee status onshore, after having arrived unauthorised by boat, and spending time in other countries where they could have sought refuge) have basic welfare and medicare entitlements, but do not have access to the full range of settlement services designed to assist permanent settlement. There is widespread concern about this situation and the burden on state and NGO agencies. TPV holders also have no rights to family reunion which some might argue makes it difficult to settle happily in the country.


The DIMA website has several statistical publications with settler arrival numbers over the years. Immigration Update 2004 05 provides the latest statistics on settler arrivals by eligibility category, for example family arrivals or humanitarian entrants.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) website is also a very useful site for migration statistics. Of particular use is the Migration Australia series, some of the migration related feature articles, Australia s Most Recent Immigrants 2001, and the Australian Year Books.

Another important source of research into settlement outcomes is DIMA s Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia (LSIA). The survey collects and analyses data from two cohorts; those who arrived between September 1993 and August 1995, and those who arrived between September 1999 and August 2000. The reports to date are available on DIMA s website and on the research publications page.

Overseas policies and services

Integration policy in Europe

There is an increasing awareness and acceptance of the need to integrate immigrant populations in European countries.

According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) project, Good practice in the reception and integration of refugees: networking across Europe, the integration of refugees must be a dynamic two-way process that begins from the day a refugee arrives in the host society. ECRE believes that integration is a continuous long-term process enabling refugees and their communities to live in harmony with the host population of which they form a part. Integration therefore places demands both on receiving societies and on integrating individuals and communities. A synopsis of developments within the Council of Europe and individual countries, and reports of publications and ECRE papers and projects are published in the ECRE Integration Newsletter.

The Council of Europe s Parliamentary Assembly in its 2005 report on the Integration of Immigrant Women in Europe, called for more effective integration of immigrant women in Europe. It denounced the two-fold discrimination that these women face, on the grounds of their gender and ethnicity. More specifically, it called on member states to protect and implement full gender equality for immigrant women, and not to accept any form of cultural or religious relativism in the field of women s fundamental rights. The assembly condemned the recent violence in the UK and France (2005), expressed concern at the numbers of foreigners in Europe forced to live in ghetto areas, and disagreed with any criticism of the multiculturalism concept. The focus on women in immigrant societies stems from changes in the nature of migration flows, where there are an increasing number of women deciding to migrate alone.

The Assembly calls upon member states to promote the participation of immigrant women in public, economic, social and political life. Women should be granted a full legal status independent of their spouses, especially those arriving under family reunification arrangements, or those subject to violence.

In its Recommendation 1261 (1995) on the situation of immigrant women in Europe, the Assembly considered that the member states of the Council of Europe must do everything possible to eliminate the injustice and discrimination suffered by immigrant women and adopt measures aimed at their harmonious integration into society. Ten years later, immigrant women are still faced with particular difficulties in a Europe which continues to be beset by economic crisis and in which, since the events of 11 September 2001, intolerance and Islamophobia have become more prevalent.

Refugee resettlement and reception

Canada: Canada is most like Australia in terms of its immigration history and the settlement services it has developed. The Canadian federal government helps refugees resettle in Canada through its Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program. This program includes accommodation, financial and health assistance. Canada s resettlement programs include a Government-Assisted Refugee Program, a Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program and a Joint Assistance Sponsorship (JAS) Program. The government produces an orientation package for newcomers.

New Zealand: In 2003, the New Zealand Government agreed to a New Zealand Immigration Settlement Strategy for migrants, refugees and their families. The Strategy s goals for migrants and refugees are that they obtain employment appropriate to their qualifications and skills; are confident using English in a New Zealand setting, or can access appropriate language support to bridge the gap; are able to access appropriate information and responsive services that are available to the wider community (for example housing, education, and services for children); form supportive social networks and establish a sustainable community identity; feel safe expressing their ethnic identity and are accepted by, and are part of, the wider host community; and participate in civic, community and social activities.

All publicly provided health services are available to people from refugee backgrounds. For more detail see The New Zealand Strategy in Outline. In 2004 there was a review of the strategy and feedback from the initial dialogue with stakeholders was published.

United States: The USA does not have a federal settlement program like Australia; services are delivered at the state level, but it does have a federal program of assistance for refugees.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Migrants outlines refugee resettlement services in the USA. Initially, an INS officer approves the refugee's application for US resettlement, before matching the refugee with an American resettlement organization. Most of these non-profit organisations rely on professional and volunteer staff to assist refugees in the resettlement process.

The resettlement organisation that assesses a refugee's case is responsible for assisting the refugee in the initial resettlement phase. Each resettlement organisation provides a variety of services to promote early self-sufficiency and cultural adjustment. The following activities take place within the first thirty days of arrival: application for a Social Security Number, school registration, medical evaluation and English language training. One of the more famous cases of resettlement in the US was the Lost boys of Sudan, many of whom have found it very difficult to settle.

Europe: Refugeenet (EU Networks on Reception, Integration and Voluntary Repatriation Project) provided an overview of services available to several European countries, including language tuition, access to education, education tables by country, and health services. Please note the project ended in February 2002.

France: French deputies back divisive immigration bill Wed May 17, 2006. It will be harder for resident immigrants to bring their families, newcomers will be forced to take French and civics lessons, and the automatic right to a long-term residence permit after 10 years in France will be ended. French Minister Sarkozy has said the November 2005 riots in France's high-immigration suburbs where unemployment is rampant among young males is evidence of the failures of France's current system of immigration. The violence which exploded in our suburbs is not unconnected with the shocking failure of our policies of integration and immigration, he told the National Assembly.

Germany: New Immigration Act: the effects on integration. The new Immigration Act (that came into force on 1st January 2006) aims to regulate the entry, stay, and economic activity of foreigners and also introduces new integration measures. Foreign applicants to Germany are legally obliged to undertake an integration course under the Act, which they must pay for individually. This course seeks to acquaint foreigners with the legal system, language, history and culture of Germany. If a person fails to attend then sanctions will be imposed, including reducing benefits and removing the right to permanent residence. Under the legislation, the Ministry of the Interior will also initiate a nationwide integration programme.

Norway: Report No. 49 to the Storting (2003 04) Diversity through inclusion and participation Responsibility and freedom. The Government believes that diversity is positive. The population in Norway is less homogeneous than it has been in the past in terms of lifestyles, origin, religion, language used at home and culture. Norway will become increasingly more diverse, and policies must be adapted to the challenges this will bring.

The Government's integration and diversity policies the Government has established an introductory programme. The Government's aim is that newly arrived immigrants will gain access to working life and society, and that each individual will be welcomed with active measures when settling in a municipality. An individually adapted introductory programme will provide basic skills in Norwegian and insight into Norwegian society, and will also include measures preparing for participation in working life and/or education. The Government believes that individual qualifications are a benefit for each person and also for society, which will gain from the resources immigrants bring. The local authorities must as soon as possible and no later than three months after settlement in a municipality offer such a comprehensive (year-round, full day) introductory programme to refugees of the kind described above.

Sweden: Sweden does not have a law-based integration programme for refugees. Under the current system introduced in 1985, the National Immigration Board (SIV) concludes agreements with the municipalities regarding the reception of refugees (and certain other aliens) in their area. Each municipality must establish an integration programme which includes liaising with the local employment office, the offer of permanent housing after being granted a residence permit, and the same rights as nationals in accordance with the Social Assistance Act if they are unable to support themselves.

The Netherlands: Integration policy as a priority: 2006 Justice Budget: 20th September 2005. According to the Integration and Immigration Minister, integration policy will be a major focus of the 2006 Justice Budget. This follows the Newcomers Integration Act, which will be introduced in 2006; under this bill individuals must pass a language and culture exam in order to ensure that they integrate into Dutch society. The successful completion of this exam will be a precondition for obtaining a permanent residence permit.

Local Authorities are responsible for housing individuals who have been given permission to stay in the Netherlands and for teaching them the basic skills they need in Dutch society. Where appropriate, they also issue social security payments and housing benefit. On 25 November 2005, The State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment, Henk van Hoof, granted 3 million Euros to help refugees find employment to refugee assisting organisations, such as the Dutch Refugee Council and the University Assistance Fund. The funding lasts until 2008, and is aimed to assist refugees to find work. This forms part of the government sponsored Broad-based Initiative for Social Cohesion ; the initiative was launched in January to co-ordinate organisations in discussing how social cohesion can be promoted in the Netherlands.

Key resources

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