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Entrepreneurial spirit found in refugees

3 August 20160 comments

Refugees have the potential to become Australian entrepreneurs and many have business skills and experience, according to new research.

The research report, titled ‘Igniting the Passion of Newly-Arrived Refugees’, cites ABS data that shows that migrants who arrived as refugees reported the highest proportion of their incomes “from their own unincorporated businesses”.

This income grew as the length of time they spent in Australia, and “increased sharply” after five years of residency, the report says.

“In other words, most immigrants to Australia contribute to the economy with their own small to medium-sized enterprises,” said the report’s author Professor Jock Collins.

The report says many refugees have overcome problems of unemployment by establishing a private enterprise.

Prof Jock Collins

Prof Jock Collins

There has been some research on refugee entrepreneurs in the private sector and stories of prominent contributions to Australian business.

Indeed one of Australia’s richest men, Frank Lowy, arrived as a refugee when he was 15 years old, according to the report.

It states that “most humanitarian immigrants, like most immigrants who become entrepreneurs in Australia, establish small to medium enterprises (SMEs).”

The report cites a 1995 survey of 349 immigrant entrepreneurs in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne which found 25 per cent of people who entered Australia as humanitarian immigrants received their main income from their own business.

“Research indicates that people from a refugee background display strong entrepreneurial qualities, with a higher than average proportion engaging in small and medium business compared to the general Australian population,” the report says.

It says many refugees have overcome problems of unemployment by establishing a private enterprise.

Professor Collins, Social Economist of the University of Technology Sydney, said Australia had a long history of refugee or humanitarian immigration: from Jewish refugees prior to World War II to displaced people from Eastern Europe in the late 1940s, from Vietnamese refugees following the fall of Saigon in 1975 to Lebanese refugees in the 1980s, and the refugees who have arrived in the past decades.

He said refugee policy has been the most controversial aspect of Australian immigration policy.

“The literature is unambiguous about the socio-economic disadvantage that characterises the experiences of new refugee arrivals, particularly in the first years of settlement,” Prof Collins said.

“The key difficulty that newly-arrived humanitarian immigrants face after getting a place to live, accessing their welfare rights, getting their children enrolled in a local school and getting established in their new neighbourhoods is to move off welfare and find a job,” he said.

“Unemployment rates for refugees are exceeded only by indigenous Australians.

“There is a strong argument for a larger humanitarian immigration intake and a more generous attitude to the settlement needs of refugees.

“This argument has usually been couched in humanitarian terms: we are a rich nation and can do more to assist in resettling the 60 million displaced people around the world today.

“Moreover, over time most refugees settle well into Australian society and make a strong contribution to nation building,” Prof Collins said.

But he said there was another argument for increasing Australia’s humanitarian immigration intake.

“It is an economic one: many refugees – albeit the minority – will make a significant contribution as entrepreneurs in Australia,” Prof Collins said.

“A few refugee entrepreneurs will rise to the commanding heights of Australian industry. Some will even join the ranks of the wealthiest 200 Australians like Frank Lowy,” he said.

“However, most refugee entrepreneurs – like most entrepreneurs, since 97 per cent of Australian business enterprises are small businesses – will start a small business and create income for themselves and their family and employment for others over time as they grow.

“Half of all employment in Australia is generated by small businesses,” Prof Collins said.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist