Migrant support groups say it would be deeply unfair to force some new arrivals to stay in regional and rural areas.
Yesterday it was revealed that the Turnbull Government was contemplating changes to regional skilled visas, which would bind migrants to rural areas for a set period of time.
The Government has not made any final decisions, and stressed yesterday it was also looking at offering incentives to migrants to keep them in the bush.
But the Assistant Minister for Families David Gillespie said it was “disappointing” and “counter-productive” for regional companies who sponsored migrants to have them move to a city.
Welcome to Australia chief executive, Mohammad Al Khafaji, said migrant advocacy groups would need to see the details of the proposal, but overall “restricting people’s freedom of movement is not the solution when trying to welcome” new arrivals.
“The debate needs to move away from the reason why migrants are not staying and look at it as a whole. Why are people in generally not staying in regional towns?” he said.
“The answer is because there is not much investment in health and education.
“You can’t force people to stay in one place. What happens if migrants get married and can’t move to a capital city because there is a restriction on their visa?”
Regional employers are disappointed when migrants choose to move to the city even though they were given visas to work in the country, says Assistant Families Minister David Gillespie.
Mr Al Khafaji said any limitations would not allow for changes in migrants’ circumstances.
“That’s not who we are as Australians. What happens if they can’t stay with that employer who sponsored them because of a violation to their work right?”
“Instead of a punitive solution we need to make sure there is an incentive for anyone — not just migrants — to move to regional centres.”
University of South Australia sociology lecturer David Radford said a number of issues could result from a “mismatch of policy and ground reality”.
“In order to retain migrants into regional areas they need to feel they belong,” Dr Radford said.
“Having a policy that sends them to a rural area doesn’t guarantee that they’ll stay or that will be a successful settlement.
“In Queensland, for example, there are towns that are designated to receive new migrants but are not necessarily set up to receive them.
“When we have communities ready to receive you have a match between policy and ground reality.”
Australia has a handful of visas offered to people who agree to work in regional areas, but they don’t bind migrants to a regional town.
Among the jobs offered in regional towns are lower-skilled jobs such as fruit picking that locals are often not interest in.
But Dr Radford said while some migrants came to Australia and began working in these lower-skilled jobs, they may have aspiration to re-locate and up-skill, or their children may want to attend university in the city.
Migrants sometimes work in low-skilled jobs, but they may want to upskill in the future says sociologist David Radford.
Migrants want different jobs
A lack of employment opportunities and incentives has been the experience of many migrants in South Australia’s Riverland, who according to the chair of the Riverland Multicultural Forum, Peter Piros, cannot find jobs.
The Riverland is a key destination for seasonal workers in horticulture, however Mr Piros said migrants had been moving out of the region to bigger cities.
“The work is getting less and less. A lot of people who are coming to work find other difficulties,” he said.
“They complain they are not paid enough, the work is too hard … so obviously when people find other opportunities they will find better places to live.”
Mr Piros said at the moment there were no incentives that would make migrants happy to stay regional.
“I don’t think it’s fair to place conditions on the migrants, people should be able to live where they are more comfortable,” he said.
Support could lead to success
At the other end of the debate, Australian Migrant Resource Centre chief executive, Eugenia Tsoulis, said there could be successful integration if the right support systems were also funded.
Ms Tsoulis said cheaper housing and inclusive communities were big drawcards for migrants to live in rural areas.
The Australian Migrant Resources Centre says if there’s adequate support for migrants, it leads to positive growth for rural areas. (Tom Edwards)
She said in towns around south-east South Australia, migrant communities had become well-established. For example, Mount Gambier with the Bangladeshi community had started businesses and social enterprises.
“We have increased the population around those regional centres,” Ms Tsoulis said.
“What they have done is brought families from other states to the town … They draw other people from overseas posts.
“If somebody in Thailand knows the Koreans live in Mount Gambier they’ll be drawn that.”
But the success of regional settlement had been offset by lack of transport and lack of English classes.
“We need to look at the gaps that we need to fill in and we will increase the influx,” Ms Tsoulis said.