New research reveals skilled migrants and refugees face uphill battle to secure work

Highly skilled migrants and refugees are being locked out of the job market in Australia, facing policy and funding barriers and discrimination by employers, according to new research from Australian Catholic University (ACU).

ACU’s Stakeholder Engaged Scholarship Unit (SESU), carried out an evaluation of SydWest Multicultural Services - a leading employability organisation that works with recently arrived migrants and refugees in Western Sydney.

The report found SydWest had outperformed national standards, delivering successful employability course work programs, innovation and partnerships that profoundly assisted the majority of recent migrants and refugees.

However, report author Dr Haydn Aarons said a key challenge facing agencies like SydWest was how to help highly skilled and highly credentialled migrants and refugees.

“This stands out as a significant current and ongoing challenge to settlement and ongoing prosperity,” Dr Aarons said.

“There are really complex, systemic issues that make it extremely difficult for skilled migrants and refugees to resume their careers in Australia.

“Entry into certain professions in Australia is often subject to strict government and industry regulation, often requiring substantial retraining at significant cost, which can create insurmountable barriers for recently arrived migrants and refugees.

“English language teaching for high skilled and high-credentialled migrants and refugees is also an issue, with little or no access to professional vocation or technical English related to professional occupations.”

Dr Aarons said these issues were having an impact on the mental health of highly skilled migrants and refugees.

“Settlement problems associated with employability for high skilled and high credentialled clients extend into poor mental health, anxiety, and depression,” Dr Aarons said.

“The downward shift in social mobility and accompanying loss of class and status through loss of profession creates a real turmoil around family and gender roles within culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

“This can be a trigger for various forms of family disfunction such as domestic violence.”

SydWest Multicultural Services CEO Elfa Moraitakis said highly skilled refugees and migrants faced significant levels of unemployment and underemployment, despite massive labour shortages.

“In partnership with ACU, this research project and final report is an important step in identifying solutions to increase the employability of individuals from refugee and migrant communities, and enhance their chances of securing employment in alignment with their work experience and overseas qualifications,” Ms Moraitakis said.

“It makes practical sense to take advantage of the skills that our refugee and migrant communities bring, especially as NSW is experiencing skill and labour shortages due to international travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

“There is a communal lack of understanding when it comes to the capabilities and skills of migrants and refugees.

“Many of our clients are locked out of potential employment due to having little or no experience in an occupation in Australia, despite having the necessary qualifications and experience, sometimes many years of experience in their home countries.

“We also see barriers when it comes to employers’ expectations on how job applications and resumes are constructed and amended to accommodate Australian cultural conditions.”

Dr Aarons said the report made several recommendations, including the establishment of a formal network with a range of local partners with the specific focus of employment for migrants and refugees.

It also recommended partnering and developing plans with universities and technical colleges to develop bridging programs, professional trainee or work placements, specialist English programs, and other related occupational infrastructure, could enhance the settlement process for these clients.

“The emergence, growing importance, and central role of agencies such as SydWest in the settlement journeys of many recently arrived peoples, represents how crucial agency services are in aiding integration, including economic participation through employment, into contemporary Australian society,” he said.

“Despite the complexities and challenges of contemporary settlement, recently arrived refugees and migrants make outstanding economic, social, and cultural contributions to nation building, economic growth, and to community development.”

The report, Migrating from Settlement to Prosperity, presents the results of an evaluation study of SydWest’s employability programs and services.

SydWest Multicultural Services is a leading organisation for cultural diversity issues, responding to community needs and opportunities, located and active in four key locations in outer Western Sydney, principally Blacktown, New South Wales.

Australian Catholic University’s Stakeholder Engagement Scholarship Unit provides scholarly expertise and research assistance communities experiencing disadvantage or marginalisation.

Employability is one of the key settlement criteria established by State and Federal government for recently arrived refugees and migrants.

The evaluation comes at a time of growing need for programs and services aiding the economic participation of migrants and refugees in outer Western Sydney.

Blacktown has grown significantly in the past decade, to include nearly one hundred thousand new people.

Blacktown LGA nearly doubles the state rate for language diversity at home, has risen over ten percent in language diversity in the home since 2011, is on average per person five years younger, and has a higher rate of younger people with families.

As communities such as Blacktown and Mount Druitt continue to grow in terms of population and economic activity, so too do demand for skills in relevant industries and occupations in these communities.

The full report is available here (PDF).

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