The 'Building a New Life in Australia' longitudinal study is investigating the settlement pathways and outcomes of newly arrived humanitarian migrants, focusing particularly on the factors that promote or hinder a successful transition.
This paper explores three of these factors: English language proficiency; possession or acquisition of educational qualifications that can assist with getting a job; and becoming employed. It compares migrants' skills upon arrival in Australia, and their skill levels and employment 3-6 months later and again 1 and 2 years later, with participation in employment and type of occupations. Overall, more than four-fifths of participants at Wave 1 and around three-quarters of participants at Wave 2 and Wave 3 were engaged in some type of study or in paid employment.
English language proficiency improved as time in Australia increased. Almost 37% of study participants reported they could not understand English at all before their arrival and a similar proportion (40%) indicated they understood English “not well”. The proportion who could not understand English at all decreased to 22% at Wave 1, was 15% at Wave 2 and 11% at Wave 3. A large number (87%) have taken English language classes since arriving in Australia.
There was considerable diversity in participants’ educational backgrounds, although many came to Australia with relatively few years of education (15% reported no formal education and a further 18% had six or fewer years of schooling). Since their arrival, at Wave 1, 16% had undertaken other study beyond English classes. At Wave 2, 24% were studying or had studied since the previous wave. This was the case for 28% at Wave 3.
In their early months in Australia, few (6%) working age participants were in paid employment. The percentage rose as time in Australia increased (23% at Wave 3). Those not working were doing varied activities including studying or taking English classes, or looking after family. There was a link between improved English skills and increased likelihood of finding employment.Most of those in paid employment in Australia were in relatively unskilled occupations (12% reported an occupation of manager or professional at Wave 1, prior to arrival 32% had worked in these two occupations).
Overall, more than four-fifths of participants at Wave 1 and around three-quarters of participants at Wave 2 and Wave 3 were engaged in some type of study or paid employment.