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Boosting Refugee Jobs Would Be A Win-Win For Australia

Blaming refugees for their unemployment is the wrong approach. 

24/02/2017 6:02 AM AEDT | Updated 24/02/2017 10:44 AM AEDT
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If Australia could help refugees find jobs or start businesses faster it would produce a triple-win.

Australia is set to increase its humanitarian program in the coming years. The bipartisan commitment supporting refugee resettlement is the strongest affirmation of Australia's global citizenship.

There is overwhelming evidence employment is the foundation for a new life in Australia. The OECD has found that the earlier refugees find jobs or start businesses, the better their integration prospects in the long run.

But in a period of rapid labour market transformation, it is more difficult than ever before for refugees to get a job and participate.

This week we released a report identifying the barriers to refugee employment and showcasing the gains on offer for refugees and governments if new support programs can improve labour market outcomes.

Giving refugees more income to improve their resettlement experience while improving the Budget should be a no-brainer for any government.

Seventeen percent of refugees are in paid work in Australia after 18 months. The numbers are worse for women, people with limited English and those without previous work experience. Of those employed, 40 percent work as labourers, yet by 2020, the total number of labourer jobs is expected to shrink.

The numbers aren't much better for Australia's most disadvantaged jobseekers: less than 25 percent remain in work after receiving employment service support.

If Australia could help refugees find jobs or start businesses faster it would produce a triple-win: benefiting vulnerable people, boosting the budget and improving social cohesion.

Settling Better's analysis of the Building a New Life in Australia survey of refugees points the way forward, identifying five key barriers for improving labour market outcomes: English proficiency, a lack of work experience, poor health, limited opportunities for women, and time spent in Australia.

Even a modest improvement in employment outcomes would generate a major fiscal benefit for government, reinforced, of course, by the broader benefits to social capital and cohesion and to migrants themselves.

Reducing the participation, income and unemployment gap by 25 percent between just one annual quota of refugees and the average person in the labour market will create $465 million worth of income for refugees and their families and is worth $175 million to the Australian Government's budget bottom line over the next decade.

Achieving this year on year would compound the benefits, generating $2.5 billion for new arrivals and $1 billion for the government.

Giving refugees more income to improve their resettlement experience while improving the Budget should be a no-brainer for any government and with Australia's commitment set to grow, as it should, doing nothing is not be an option.

The status quo will not capture this massive potential. While refugees do much better over longer time periods and have proven to be more entrepreneurial than other migrants, less than one in five refugees working after 18 months is an outcome that can be improved with the right approach.

Blaming refugees for this outcome when the system is set up to fail is the wrong approach.

The Australian Government's jobactiveprogram is poorly suited for long-term Australian unemployed jobseekers, let alone people who have fled their homeland with little English and previous work experience. Meanwhile, fragmented governance has meant there are four different federal departments and up to six different federal ministers in charge of various aspects of refugee support.

We must do more to help refugees settle better so they have the opportunity and support to succeed.

Australian governments, industry and civil society have traditionally been leaders in resettlement. This is important to recognise. However, to remain a leader in refugee resettlement, we must adapt in the face of a changing labour market and improve employment outcomes.

Political leadership and investment must nurture the public legitimacy that forms the bedrock of Australia's humanitarian program. We must do more to help refugees settle better so they have the opportunity and support to succeed. Now is the time to invest in overcoming identified employment barriers and establish a centre of gravity for post-arrival settlement services.

A new approach would be a triple-win. It would be good for refugees, boost the budget, and improve social cohesion. That would be a great result for all Australians.

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