Gaining secure employment is a key settlement outcome for new arrivals to Australia.
Data from 2011 shows that new arrivals who came via the Migration Program for skilled and family migrants are most likely to be in employment, with only 10.4 per cent of family stream arrivals being unemployed, and 6.1 per cent of skilled stream arrivals being unemployed; Humanitarian Program entrants had the highest unemployment rate of 21.5 per cent.
Migrants face many barriers when it comes to applying for jobs, including difficulties with English language and literacy, problems with skills recognition and working in low-skilled roles and discrimination.
The Australian Government program Jobactive aims to help all Australian jobseekers secure employment. But most migrants will use personal and social connections to find work and critics of Jobactive say that the service does not meet the unique needs of new arrivals.
The importance of employment
The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia told the Committee that ‘employment is really central to effective social integration.’
Submitters including the Ethnic Communities of Queensland, Settlement Services Advisory Council, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Association for Services to Torture Trauma Survivors, South Australian Government, AMES Australia, Migration and Refugee Research Network, ACT Government, Anglicare Victoria, Centre for Multicultural Youth also agreed that employment was important for integration into the Australian society.
The Settlement Council of Australia said employment is essential to successful settlement:
Migrants pursue employment as a means of acquiring economic security for their families and welcome the opportunity to contribute to their new home. Obtaining employment is not only important in terms of economic wellbeing but also leads to greater participation of migrants in their communities, better self-esteem and protects and enhances mental health.
Statistical snapshot of migrant employment
The latest comprehensive datasets available for employment and unemployment by migration stream are from 2011.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) included in its submission statistics from the Australian Census and Migrant Integrated Dataset 2011 (ACMID). The DSS stated that ACMID contains records of over 765,491 migrants who were in the labour force at the time and found that 91.7 per cent were employed while 8.3 per cent were unemployed.
More generally, DSS stated that humanitarian entrants are worse off than other migrant groups. In 2011, of those in the labour force, 21.5 per cent of humanitarian entrants were unemployed. By comparison unemployment rates for the Migration Program family stream were 10.4 per cent and 6.1 per cent for the Migration Program skilled stream.
Figure 4.1: Employment and unemployment by migration stream – for those who arrived between 1 January 2000 to 9 August 2011
Source: Australian Census and Migrant Integrated Dataset 2011
Despite humanitarian entrants having higher unemployment rates than other types of migrants or the Australian-born population, Settlement Council of Australia said:
Nevertheless, evidence suggest that the difference in employment outcomes between migrants and the Australian-born population is smaller in Australia than in comparable countries, with a recent OECD study identifying Australia as a leader among OECD nations.
The Settlement Council of Australia agreed that migrants from a refugee background are less likely to be working compared with other streams of migrants, but they also considered that those migrants are more likely to be studying full‐time, studying and working part‐time or studying and looking after their families.
The DSS Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) longitudinal study provides some insights into the employment rates of humanitarian entrants. The BNLA study follows 2,399 participants over five years from 2013-18.
Data from the BNLA study also supports the 2011 ACMID findings of the correlation between employment and time spent in Australia; the proportion of humanitarian entrants (aged between 18-65 years) in employment increases at each passing year.
The BNLA study reveals some further general insights into factors associated with employment for male humanitarian entrants, including:
Length of time in Australia is associated with employment;
Males at higher risk or psychological distress are less likely to be employed;
Males with excellent self-rated overall health were more likely to be in paid work and men with poor or very poor self-rated health were the least likely to be in paid work;
Males who speak English well or very well were more likely to be in employment;
Males who have more children were less likely to be in paid work;
Males who migrated as single men were more likely to be in paid work; and
Males who do not have a current Australian drivers’ licence were less likely to be in paid work than those who have one.
Analysis for female employment ‘could not be drawn from BNLA data due to the very small numbers of female participants in paid work’.
Barriers to employment
The Committee received evidence that there were a number of barriers migrants faced in finding employment in Australia such as a migrant’s proficiency in English and literacy, a lack of understanding of cultural norms and common employment processes, problems with skills recognition and working in low-skilled roles, and discrimination.
English language and literacy
The DSS submitted that a migrant’s lack of proficiency in English can be a significant barrier in their attempts to find employment relevant to their skills across all migration streams stating:
… there is a clear relationship between English language [proficiency] and unemployment across all three migration streams, with higher unemployment among those with lesser English language ability.
Evidence from DSS shows that ‘humanitarian migrants still have very high levels of unemployment even among those who speak only English or are proficient in English.’
Data from 1 January 2011 to 9 August 2011 shows that 18 per cent of humanitarian entrants who only speak English were unemployed. In comparison, only 10.8 per cent of skilled stream visa holders who were not proficient in spoken English were unemployed.
Figure 4.2: Unemployment by migration stream and English language proficiency – for those who arrived between 1 January 2000 to 9 August 2011
Source: Australian Census and Migrant Integrated Dataset 2011
Other submitters agreed with DSS that English proficiency was a barrier to employment.
In their submission, Chaldean Welfare of Victoria said that:
Individuals and families who are coming to Australia understand and recognise the importance of having a solid knowledge of the English language in order to engage in the workforce, but fail to make progress in actually learning it. [They’ve] found that this is due to a lack of support and encouragement for them to undertake English courses.
The Australian Council of TESOL Associations (ACTA) similarly said that:
English proficiency affects a person’s ability to gain employment comparable to his/her occupation prior to arriving in Australia…For those with low proficiency, it is particularly difficult.
AMES Australia told the Committee that a consistent theme in their consultations was ‘the importance of English language to find employment.’
The Victorian Multicultural Commission commented that ‘English language proficiency is paramount to successful settlement as it is a precursor to securing sustainable employment.’
The Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma said that ‘it is self-evident that capacity to speak English impacts profoundly on a person’s capacity to obtain work.’
However, in their submission ACTA reproduced statistics from AMES regarding the methods migrants used to find employment and found that after finishing SLPET the main ways were:
Personal and social connections e.g. family, friends (42 per cent);
Internet and newspaper search e.g. job or employer website, newspaper adverts (20 per cent);
Work experience or volunteering (16 per cent);
Jobactive support (three per cent);
Cold calling/canvassing (five per cent); and
Self-employment (four per cent).
The ACTA posited that, as the majority of work was found through personal connection, migrants probably depended on using other languages more than English to find employment.
The Settlement Council of Australia submitted that:
Migrants with lower English language skills are typically funnelled into lower-skilled employment with little upward mobility, irrespective of their level of pre-arrival skill.
Skills recognition and working in low-skilled roles
Although there is a clear relationship between higher educational attainment and higher levels of employment across all migrant streams, many submitters commented on the difficulty in having overseas skills and qualifications recognised in Australia. The Committee received evidence that the difficulty in having overseas skills and qualifications recognised in Australia results in many new arrivals working in low-skilled roles with limited opportunity to progress.
Figure 4.3 supports the relationship identified by DSS between educational levels and unemployment. They submitted that the relationship ‘is very clear amongst the humanitarian and family stream arrivals, but among the skilled stream no relationship exists.’
Figure 4.3: Unemployment by migration stream and educational attainment – for those who arrived between 1 January 2000 to 9 August 2011
Source: Australian Census and Migrant Integrated Dataset 2011
New arrivals can have their overseas qualifications assessed in two ways:
Occupations that require specialised knowledge and skills in Australia (regulated professions such as medicine, law, accounting, engineering, teaching etc.) that have registration, licensing, professional membership or other industry requirements have unique authorities (such as peak bodies) for assessing overseas qualifications; or
For general occupations (without the above mentioned specific requirements) new arrivals can contact the Overseas Qualification Unit in their State or Territory (except NSW, where no such body exists).
Although unique professional assessment bodies and the Overseas Qualification Unit of each State/Territory have their own processes for assessing overseas qualifications the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) is the overarching policy that regulates qualifications in the Australian education and training system. An objective of the framework is to ‘enable the alignment of the AQF with international qualification frameworks.’
Despite the AQF, the Committee received evidence that qualification recognition is a difficult and expensive process and means many migrants take on jobs below their professional skill level.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence said that ‘Australia does not have a consistent, national approach to overseas skills and qualifications recognition and offers limited opportunities for practical demonstration of work skills.’
They also provided the following figures:
Almost 65% of all recent migrants had a non-school (vocational or higher education) qualification before arrival in Australia; however, only one-third of these had their overseas qualification recognised.
Around 60% of humanitarian entrants held high skill jobs in their former country of residence, while only 26% have those jobs in Australia. In contrast, just 17% worked as labourers in their former country, but 38% worked as labourers in Australia.
The inquiry received further evidence highlighting that most migrants will work in lower-skilled jobs than they did in their country of origin. In their submission ACTA referred to the AMES Australia report titled In Transition: employment outcomes of migrants in English languages programs at AMES Australia, which shows the change in occupation before and after migrating to Australia:
Three hundred and forty-five people in this study had worked prior to migration. The main occupations they held prior to coming to Australia were as managers or professionals (48 per cent), clerical and administrative workers (15 per cent) and technicians and trade workers (11 per cent). In contrast, occupations for the 159 people who had found work since [Settlement Language Pathways to Employment and Training] SLPET were labourers (37 per cent), sales workers (19 per cent), community and personal service workers (14 per cent) and clerical and administrative workers (14 per cent).
Figure 4.4: Employment situation before and after migration: all respondents
AMES Australia, In Transition: employment outcomes of migrants in English language programs at AMES Australia, December 2016, p. 4.
The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) stated that ‘difficulties with obtaining recognition of skills and qualifications earned overseas are a major barrier to accessing employment in Australia.’ The FECCA consider that there is not sufficient information about how to have overseas qualifications recognised and that the costs of this recognition can be prohibitive.
The FECCA adopted a recommendation from the Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Victoria’s discussion paper that Australia needs to increase the ‘availability of education and training, such as bridging courses, to help migrants make the most of their previous experience.’
The FECCA then went on to recommend national adoption of a model similar to that of Queensland Government Overseas Qualification Unit, which ‘organise the seminars to educate people from migrant backgrounds about qualification and skills recognition.’
Discrimination in the workplace
While laws exist to protect people from discrimination and harassment in the Australian workplace, the Committee received evidence that migrants either seeking work or who are currently employed in the Australian workplace still experience discrimination.
In their submission the South Australian Government stated that challenges for migrants include ‘(hidden) discrimination in recruitment practices.’
AMES Australia told the Committee of the unconscious and conscious bias surrounding employment of migrants and specific strategies that could be used in raising employers' awareness about unconscious bias.
They provided an example about the unconscious bias in the employment process. When qualified migrants, who would not have progressed through the normal selection process, were put in front of human resource professionals the professionals said that they couldn’t understand why the migrants were not employed.
They also mentioned the perceived bias many migrants feel:
In some cases there is bias and people can look back and see that discrimination. For others it is not clear, but that is the kind of feeling people have. So sometimes there is a question: is it a perception that I am being discriminated against because of my background, or is it the reality?
In their submission, the Jesuit Social Services specifically commented on the employment barrier of discrimination faced in a South Sudanese community:
A study conducted with 72 members of the South Sudanese community seeking employment in the Australian Capital Territory found that almost all (89 per cent) of the participants experienced racism in the process of looking for a job. Participants commonly confronted complaints regarding their ‘strong accents’. Many of the job seekers were university graduates, and as a result of the difficulty in gaining employment they began to question the intrinsic value of their qualification.
AMES Australia recommended to the Committee ways to address unconscious and conscious bias surrounding employment of migrants:
There is definitely more to do in raising employers' awareness of the skills and qualifications that people bring with them and raising employers' awareness about unconscious bias.
The Refugee Council of Australia echoed the importance of educating employers about the benefits of diversity:
For refugee entrants to be able to find meaningful, sustainable employment in Australia, employers also need to see the value of workforce diversity and be willing to give someone a chance to apply their strengths, skills and experience in an Australian workplace.
AMES Australia went on to say that there are a lot of migrants ‘who are highly qualified [but] who are incredibly underemployed.’
Administered by the Department of Employment Jobactive ‘is the Australian Government’s way to get more Australians into work.’ Jobactive providers operate across 1,700 locations in Australia to provide employment services to employers and job seekers.
Centrelink first assesses the needs of a job seeker for Jobactive services and refers them to a service stream depending on their readiness for work. Allocation of stream then guides the level of support a job seeker will receive from a Jobactive provider.
Stream A: Job seekers are the most job ready. They will receive services to help them understand what employers want and how to navigate the local labour market, build a résumé, look for jobs and learn how to access self-help facilities.
Stream B: Job seekers need their Jobactive provider to play a greater role to help them become job ready and will be referred for case management support.
Stream C: Job seekers have a combination of work capacity and personal issues that need to be addressed and will get case management support so that they can take up and keep a job.
Community views on Jobactive
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) said that they are concerned with the ‘lack of targeted and specialised support’ from Jobactive. They also included the following concerns that were raised by service providers and refugees:
Jobactive providers often have limited cross-cultural communications skills and some lack a basic understanding of the needs and experiences of people from refugee backgrounds;
People are being taken out of Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) classes to attend Jobactive appointments, interviews and other requirements, disrupting the language learning that is instrumental in finding meaningful and skills-relevant employment;
There is a failure to recognise the lack of experience many refugees have with the technology required for reporting;
Almost all providers are not using interpreters in their communication and meetings with clients; and
People are being incorrectly assessed into streams of support, and … those people seeking asylums are eligible only for the lowest level of support.
The FECCA stated that ‘employment services are generally not client centred and therefore not effective in identifying and responding to their diverse pool of clients.’
They went on to say that ‘employment services are driven by the service rules and what the service provider wants to prioritise and deliver, instead of being driven by consumers and their expressed needs.’
Similarly, the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN Australia) said that:
The Jobactive system in particular has been criticised for being unable to provide the necessary level of assistance required by people from refugee or migrant backgrounds and for a lack of cultural sensitivity.
The South Australian Government agreed that ‘Jobactive service providers are under resourced to respond to migrant issues’ and as a consequence do not adequately take into account cultural differences and settlement circumstance.
The Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT Inc. stated in their submission that, while ‘humanitarian entrants are referred to Jobactive for assistance, [their] clients have been largely unsuccessful in finding employment through this process.’
ACTA echoed the sentiment that Jobactive achieves ‘particularly low employment results.’
In their submission, Chaldean Welfare of Victoria considered that Jobactive has not been successful for the Chaldean community. They attributed the difficulty in part to Chaldeans not understanding the recruitment process:
People migrating to Australia have no knowledge of writing up a CV, cover letter, responses to key selection criteria, etc. and as such have an additional barrier to finding employment.
Chaldean Welfare of Victoria recommended that, a solution to overcome not knowing Australian recruitment processes was to run a ‘one-day workshops where people could come along and pick up these simple but necessary skills.’
The Committee accepts that secure employment is critical to successful settlement outcomes for migrants.
The Committee believes that whilst all migrants face challenges in securing employment in a new country, humanitarian entrants face particular difficulties when it comes to getting a job.
The Committee notes that the latest available data from ACMID is from 2011 and may not reflect the latest trends in migration employment. The Committee notes that the ages and backgrounds of humanitarian entrants may have changed since 2011. The BNLA Longitudinal study will hopefully provide some more insights into employment circumstances for humanitarian entrants once the study concludes in 2018.
The Committee understands that higher levels English proficiency correlates with higher levels of employment for all migrant streams – except for humanitarian entrants. The Committee understands that language is not the only barrier for humanitarian entrants joining the workforce. The Committee believes that new arrivals must be equipped with knowledge of Australian recruitment and employment practices. Understanding cultural norms and workplace expectations will help more humanitarian entrants secure work sooner.
The Committee notes that the difficulty in having pre-existing qualifications recognised prevents new arrivals securing employment that matches their skill level. Overseas skills recognition is a complex process with inconsistencies in processes across industries/professions and jurisdictions. The Committee believes that more could be done to make this process more affordable and efficient.
The Committee notes that despite Australia being a multi-cultural nation, discrimination – whether explicit or unconscious bias - prevents new arrivals from entering the workforce.
While the Committee recognises that Jobactive provides important services to individuals seeking employment evidence received for the inquiry identified gaps in the current provision of Jobactive services for newly arrived migrants and from migrants from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
The Committee is concerned that referral of humanitarian entrants to Jobactive results in particularly low employment results. But the Committee is not surprised given the evidence that Jobactive does not provide appropriate support for people from migrant or refugee background.
The Committee was despairing of the evidence that individuals’ AMEP participation was disrupted by the Jobactive process, demonstrating clearly that there is little consideration given to the migrant cohort by Jobactive. Placing vulnerable people in a position where they have to choose between education and employment is an inefficient use of government resources.
The Committee hopes that the Department of Education and the Department of Employment can coordinate their services to ensure that migrants are able to focus on gaining the necessary language and cultural understanding to ensure they can enter the workforce.
The Committee recommends that the Jobactive program include an employment support service specifically designed for newly arrived and longer term migrants.
Youth Transition Support Pilot
Administered by the Department of Social Services the Support Program ‘is a $22.1 million pilot that helps young humanitarian entrants and vulnerable migrants under 25 to participate in work and education.’
The pilot was scheduled to run from 1 January 2016 until 30 June 2017 and was delivered by six service providers in Queensland, NSW and Victoria:
ACCESS Community Services and MDA are delivering the pilot in select locations in Brisbane and Logan, Queensland;
The Community Migrant Resource Centre (Parramatta) and the Lebanese Muslim Association are delivering the pilot in select locations in Sydney, New South Wales; and
Foundation House and the Brotherhood of St Laurence are delivering the pilot in select locations in Melbourne, Victoria.
Additional funding was allocated to maintain select services until 30 June 2018.
Spectrum identified the following focus areas of the Youth Transitions Support Pilot aimed at people aged 15-25:
Enhancing workplace readiness;
Skill identification and development;
Creating strong social connections; and
Access to employment and vocational opportunities.
In Spectrum’s submission they also identified that since mid-2016 they have partnered in the program, ‘in a collaboration with five other local agencies that is led by the Brotherhood of St Laurence.’
Submitters commented on the unique settlement needs for youth migrants that requires a targeted approach.
Brotherhood of St Laurence welcomed the pilot adding that ‘it is recognition of the fact that there is a gap between what settlement services provide and what employment services provide.’
The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia spoke of the importance of transition programs:
Putting a lot of attention on employment programs, and the transition from institutionalised education—school, mostly— into higher education and also into the employment sector, is really, really crucial for building social cohesion and social integration for these young people.
In their submission, the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT stated that completion of the AMEP does not necessarily equip migrants with the language skills needed to obtain employment, or complete further study or training. They identified the importance of continuing English language learning and also suggested the need to ‘focus on youth and engaging youth in education, training and employment opportunities.’
Access Community Services also believed that the program had successful outcomes.
Multicultural Youth Queensland believed that the program ‘promoted high quality settlement outcomes for young people.’ They added that the flexible funding arrangement allowed ‘providers to meet the diverse needs of young people.’
They highlighted that a successful pilot version of the program was currently underway in Logan, Queensland:
The 18-month pilot, which began in January 2016, has had success in Logan in engaging young people at risk of isolation and social disengagement.
The Youth Transition Support pilot programme in Logan has funded a range of sports, social and recreational engagement opportunities, along with work readiness, career exposure, and educational pathway workshops.
The Committee believes that employment is an integral part of the settlement process. The Committee was encouraged to hear about the measure aimed at increasing young people’s participation in education, training and employment, including a focus on more practical employment skills.
The Committee notes that a pilot program for Youth Transition Support was completed in 30 June 2017 and extended to 30 June 2018. While DSS states the ‘pilot is being monitored and evaluated to help inform future services delivery’ the evaluation has not yet been finalised.
The Committee notes that Commonwealth programs must undergo robust monitoring and evaluation to assess their effectiveness, and should only be extended after this process has occurred.
The Committee also acknowledges that there is a gap in the provision of services for young migrants to participate in work and education. The Committee believes programs that address this gap are beneficial in helping achieve better migrant settlement outcomes.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government review support programs for newly arrived migrant youth such as the Youth Transition Support program with the view to examine the feasibility of extending these programs nationally.