Australia is a country built on the backs of migrants. Nearly 30 per cent of current residents were born overseas; that’s an estimated 6.6 million people in a country of only 23 million.
Following worsening conditions in the Middle East and international pressure, Australia has agreed to increase its intake of refugees and asylum seekers displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq to 12,000. This is in addition to the 6000 or so refugees and asylum seekers we welcome each year.
Getting here is half the battle for most. Those fleeing conflict abroad often leave behind businesses, family members and much more besides for the chance to escape violence and persecution. For many, employment is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome, but it’s also a vital component of the resettlement process.
Gaining stable, fulfilling employment is a contributing factor for the successful resettlement of refugees, according to the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA). Besides the economic benefits of paid employment, work is important in providing a sense of belonging and community.
There are manifold benefits to businesses that employ refugees. Research suggests that migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds are comparatively more successful at establishing small business enterprises when compared to Australian-born entrepreneurs and migrants from English-speaking backgrounds, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
As a group, migrants earned $38 billion in total income during the 2009-2010 financial year. Refugees comprised 4 per cent of the migrant population at the time of this study, but they earned a total of $888.8 million, which is 9.3 per cent of the income earned by all migrants during this period.
This industrial spirit is also evident in their documented low turnover rates and higher loyalty to employers, which saves companies training and hiring costs in the long run. Refugees also contribute to creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. Besides cultural diversity, some have professional, technical and business expertise, as well as valuable bilingual skills.
When given the chance, refugees are resourceful, determined and highly motivated, says Cath Scarth, CEO of refugee settlement agency AMES Australia. Their resilience is evident in their willingness to take risks, and many have strong business acumen. “Many refugees and other newcomers to Australia are very intent on showing they can make a contribution and bring value to the community in which they live,” she says.
Here are some things to consider when employing refugees:
- Partner with organisations that specialise in helping refugees find employment. AMES Australia, a refugee resettlement not-for-profit, has free recruitment services for businesses that want to hire refugees. Most services offer candidate screening, medical assessments, and workplace support such as mentoring programs or ongoing post-placement support. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is another not-for-profit that partners with businesses to provide migrants with work experience placements or employment opportunities, as are Life Without Barriers and Australia for UNHCR.
- Be realistic. To make transitions easier, the RCOA recommends being clear from the beginning about expectations and conditions of employment. Not only does this eliminate confusion, but it also has a surprising ripple effect: Refugee communities are tight-knit, and one successfully employed refugee can contribute to creating employment opportunities for refugees that are more recently arrived. Local, state and national governments have targeted initiatives for helping refugees acclimate to life in Australia. If you need additional assistance, these programs are a great place to start.
- Know the legalities of employing a refugee to separate fact from fiction. There are a lot of myths and hyperbole surrounding the increase in refugee intake, so it’s important to know what the law says. Australia is only accepting refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and people granted one of the 12,000 places will come to Australia as permanent residents.
- Most importantly, be understanding of their situation. It’s important to keep in mind where a refugee has come from and what experiences they have been through– there will be an adjustment period. However, there are some logistics to think about as well. A refugee, for obvious reasons, will most likely not have Australian references or work experience. Therefore, stay flexible and assess applicants based on what skills they possess, and their willingness and ability to learn.