Better support in the regions could encourage migrant settlement, according to an academic. (ABC North Queensland: Tom Edwards)
When regional Australia is calling out for migrants to fill jobs and boost dwindling populations, and most new arrivals stay in the cities, how can they be enticed to settle in the regions?
In the last financial year, 101,255 migrants arrived in Australia and of these, only 6,637 settled in regional Australia, according to the Department of Home Affairs.
Rockhampton-based Central Queensland University academic Ataus Samad has put forward a solution.
Dr Samad said a holistic approach needed to start before migrants arrived, along with more support to get them directly to regional areas.
“We found that the current process of resettling people from metropolitan cities to regional areas is difficult because once people settle in big cities, they are reluctant to move,” he said.
Often their children have started school, and even if migrants do not have jobs, they have their local community to support them.
CQ University academic Ataus Samad says the Federal Government should settle more people directly to the regions. (ABC Capricornia: Inga Stünzner)
“If we place migrants straight away in metropolitan areas within their own comfort zone, people don’t have the motivation to go out and talk to others,” Dr Samad said.
When migrants settled into regional areas, they were motivated out of necessity to talk to their neighbours or school teachers and to better integrate, he said.
Government grapples with issue
This is an issue the Federal Government has grappled with, and figures from the Department of Home Affairs show about 6 per cent of skilled migrants settle in regional areas.
Data from its Continuous Survey of Australia’s Migrants found that of those skilled migrants who settled in regional areas, 10 per cent moved to a major city between six and 18 months after settling.
Meanwhile, agribusiness employers across regional Australia face the challenge of attracting skilled labour.
Dr Samad recently presented research at a Developing Northern Australia conference outlining these challenges.
He found that most of the labour shortage in regional areas was met by seasonal workers under different visa conditions, but this was not necessarily good for the local economy.
Dr Samad says refugees are settled into areas where they have support networks, which is often in the major centres, such as Fairfield in Sydney’s west. (ABC News: Stephanie Dalzell)
“They earn here and spend somewhere else because they are seasonal workers or backpackers and their motivation is different,” Dr Samad said.
“They work here to earn their day-to-day living and make enough money to go around Australia and visit different places but not to invest in the local community.”
Employers take on temporary migrants or seasonal workers because they are unable to get permanent migrants or people from their local community to employ in their industries, he said.
“The solution is to utilise the migrants we already have in Australia, whether they are refugees or skilled migrants, and get them to regional areas and get them to fill the skill gap,” Dr Samad said.
Dr Samad said he had seen this work.
He was involved in a successful program piloted by the Federal Government seven years ago, where refugees from Myanmar were resettled into the small central Queensland town of Biloela, 200km west of Rockhampton.
It was part of the Rural Employment Assistance Program (REAP), which relocated newly arrived migrants and refugees from Logan, south of Brisbane, where there were high levels of unemployment.
Dr Samad said one of the program’s successes was the fact a number of families from the same ethnic background moved to the town.
He is working with CQ University and Charles Sturt University to identify the minimum of number of people needed to settle in a regional area to meet that critical mass.
“There are successful resettlement programs in regional areas, not only in Queensland, but in NSW, Victoria and other places in Australia,” Dr Samad said.
Leonard Nyandwi fled civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and settled in Melbourne in 2010. He has now escaped city life to take up a joinery job at Hamilton, Victoria and grow his own food. (ABC Rural: Lily Hoffmann)
Dr Samad said any resettlement also had to be led locally.
“They know their area best, and my personal view is that we need to give the entire process of resettlement to local community and local government,” he said.
The bottom line, however, is jobs.
If, for example, there was a shortage of 400 agribusiness jobs and 4,000 people were resettled, that would be a problem.
Dr Samad also noted there was a general perception that regional communities were not welcoming to migrants, and that some communities had not been exposed to migrants.
“Although we have some shocking statistics that our regional areas are not supportive of migrants in their community, my experience living in a regional area is people are very welcoming and supportive, provided we consult them,” he said.
“We need people to bridge this fear and as soon as this fear is bridged, regional communities are really welcoming.”
On the other hand, many migrants had misconceptions of what life in regional Australia was like and many had the perception it was a wild area.
Dr Samad said although there was a lot of encouragement from the Federal Government with visa categories for settlement in regional areas, there was a mismatch between the regional settlement of skilled migrants and the actual employment of skilled migrants.
“We need to start the process from the very beginning — the moment we select which refugees we accept into Australia, [the question of] where do we resettle them has to come under a holistic plan,” he said.
Settlement locations focus on regional areas
A Department of Social Services spokesperson said in a statement the department directly settled humanitarian entrants in 25 locations across Australia, and 19 of these were in regional areas.
The spokesperson said the locations had established communities, as well as local, territory and state government and community support.
When deciding on settlement locations, a range of factors were considered, including availability of settlement services, family or community links, availability of mainstream services such as health and education, opportunities for employment, and affordable housing to name a few.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says the Federal Government is taking a more stringent approach to which people are granted visas. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
About 70 per cent of humanitarian entrants were settled in this way, and the remaining people arriving without any family or other links were settled in one of the 19 regional settlement locations where possible.
The 19 regional locations include large cities such as Newcastle, Townsville, Mildura, Geelong and Wodonga.
“The Government is committed to supporting the skills and labour needs of regional Australia through access to foreign workers where Australian workers are not available,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said there was a range of temporary and permanent skilled migration visa programs available to support regional employers.
“Many regional industries also have labour agreements in place with the Government to access greater flexibility on visa criteria, including access to semi-skilled occupations.”
These are in place with dairy, meat, fishing and pork industries.
The spokesperson said the Department of Jobs and Small Business would launch a new initiative, Regional Employment Trials Program, on October 1.