Australia is one of the most successful multicultural and migrant nations in the world (Ozdowski 2013), with 46% of its population having either foreign-born parents or being foreign-born themselves (OECD 2018). Part of this foreign-born population either are, or have once been, people seeking asylum and refugees. Reports from the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs (2018) indicate that there was a total of 64,805 people seeking asylum in Australia (36,874 who had arrived by boat and 27,931 people who arrived by plane over the last few years). Of these, many were granted Bridging Visas and a large proportion have made Victoria their home. Finding a job is crucial for stabilising the circumstances of people seeking asylum while they await the outcome of their application for protection. However, people seeking asylum face a range of barriers to finding ‘decent employment’, many of which are exacerbated by Federal and State Government policies.

This research was commissioned by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) to understand the challenges faced by people seeking asylum with finding employment in Victoria, and to propose practical policy recommendations to improve their employment outcomes and social participation pathways. Data was collected primarily through desktop research, and supplemented by surveys of ASRC program participants (n=59) and employers of people seeking asylum (n=9), along with interviews with ASRC program managers and volunteers (n=3). An economic analysis of ‘targeted employment support’ programs was carried out - including the New South Wales Government’s Refugee Employment Settlement Program (RESP); the Victorian Government’s Jobs Victoria Employment Network (JVEN); the Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) Given the Chance for Asylum Seekers (GtCAS) Program and the ASRC Employment Program - to understand the overall economic costs and benefits of each of the programs. This was followed by a qualitative analysis of the survey and interview data.

Our economic analysis suggests that:

  • The ASRC Employment Program is less costly than the JVEN, with a total economic impact (gross output) valued at over $4 million and raising the employment rate of people seeking asylum by 33% during the period the program was undertaken.
  • The cost of the ASRC Employment Program is significantly lower per participant ($1,602) than JVEN ($4,333). This is true even when the in-kind contribution of ASRC is included ($2,519).
  • The survey results suggest that the reported income levels of people seeking asylum who found work through the ASRC Employment Program were higher than BSL’s GtCAS Program.

Survey and interview findings suggest that:

  • Over 40% of people seeking asylum felt that the lack of local contacts, friends, or community networks was a key barrier to finding employment. A lack of personal or professional networks upon first arriving in Australia creates obstacles both in finding and contacting prospective employers and in sourcing professional referees.
  • The complexity and ambiguity of the current visa framework creates barriers to accessing work for people seeking asylum in Victoria. The survey and interview data illustrated that the visa status determination process and the eligibility restrictions for government-funded services (most notably the recent cuts to Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS)) exacerbate stress, economic insecurity and housing instability for people seeking asylum. This seems to create a difficult base from which to find and keep work.
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