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Properly harnessing migrant workforce could yield $6bn – study

7 November 20190 comments

Getting more migrants into jobs that match their skills could deliver and $6 billion a year boost to the economy, according to new research.

And increasing the nation’s migrant workforce also boosts wages for Australian workers, the study found.

Titled ‘Finding A Place to Call Home: Immigration in Australia’ and produced by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, the report says eliminating the skills mismatch of qualified migrants in Australia through improved jobs matching and better education and training could deliver $6 billion to the Australian economy each year.

It recommends that matching the educational qualifications and job skills of migrants in Australia, particularly those from a non-English speaking background, could help migrants find a job at a similar skill level to which they were holding in their home country, providing a substantial boost to the Australian economy.

Report co-author Professor Alan Duncan said the report’s findings show that there is an untapped pool of migrant workers in Australia who have the potential to deliver up to $6 billion to the economy if fully utilised.

“This skills mismatch also exists among the native-born population and if addressed here, could add a further $2 billion to our economy. If we are to fully realise our economic potential, we must capitalise on the skills and talents of all Australians, including our migrant population,” Professor Duncan said.

Professor Duncan explained the report findings dispel the myth that migrants have a negative impact on Australian jobs and wages.

“Growth in the immigrant share of Australia’s population has led to debates over the impacts that migrants have had, or will have, on various aspects of life in Australia such as labour markets, education systems, wages and social cohesion,” Professor Duncan said.

“Our report shows that increasing the share of migrant workers across occupations and industries leads to a rise in income for Australian workers. Specifically, a one percentage point increase in the share of migrant workers leads to an increase of 2.4 percentage points in the wages of native-born workers.

“Rather than the idea that migrant workers drive down wages, our research finds the opposite, suggesting that the skills of the migrant workforce are driving productivity gains across a number of industries,” he said.

Co-author Associate Professor Astghik Mavisakalyan explained the report also looked at the health and wellbeing of immigrants, their ability to achieve their full potential, and to take a meaningful, valued and productive role in Australian society.

“Our report shows that there has been good progress in attitudes towards different minority groups, particularly among younger generations. Around two-thirds of Gen Y’s reported having a favourable attitude towards Muslim Australians compared to only 45 percent of Baby Boomers and 29 percent of our oldest generation – Builders born prior to 1945,” Associate Professor Mavisakalyan said.

“Australia has some way to go to become a truly multicultural society, with a significant share of older Australians having unfavourable views towards certain groups such as asylum seekers, Muslim Australians and African Australians, but we are seeing progress.”

Associate Professor Mavisakalyan said the report also found encouraging evidence that shows the greater the knowledge and exposure to such minority groups, the fewer the negative attitudes and stereotypes.

“For example, 71 percent of people who knew five or more Muslims did not agree with the statement that, ‘Muslims pose a threat to Australian society’. However, this fell to 38 percent for those with no exposure to Muslims,” Associate Professor Mavisakalyan said.

“Our report also found that the majority of immigrants to Australia take pride in the country, speak English and identify with Australian values. Despite this, it is still important for migrants to preserve some of their primary cultural identity to ensure their social wellbeing, although 70 percent of native-born Australians oppose government help for ethnic minorities to maintain their traditions,” he said.

Professor Duncan said the report also examined humanitarian migrants to Australia and how well they are faring.

“Humanitarian refugees are coming to Australia having experienced terrible persecution and trauma, which will have a lasting impact on their overall health and wellbeing. More than 58 percent have experienced war or conflict and one in two political or religious persecution.

“It is encouraging to see that the majority of these individuals feel a sense of safety and also feel part of the community, which has helped them settle. Language barriers, as well as access to housing and employment opportunities, are all areas we can look to improve on to not only make our humanitarian refugees feel safe, but also valued members of the Australian community.”

The report found cited census data that shows more than a quarter (26.3 per cent) of Australia’s population were born in a country other than Australia – equivalent to nearly 6.2 million at the time of the 2016 Census.

It said Australia’s overall population grew by a sixth (3.54 million) between the 2006 and 2016 Censuses, while the number of people born overseas rose by some 40 per cent (1.76 million) over the same decade.

India topped the list as the largest source country of immigrants arrived under the skilled visa stream in 2018. Nearly 28,000 Indian immigrants arrived in Australia under the skilled visa stream in 2018.

The number of skilled visa migrant arrivals from Pakistan has increased by 184 per cent over the past decades, making it the fourth largest origin of skilled visa migrants in Australia in 2018.

And the top five source countries of annual humanitarian migrant arrivals in 2018 were Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, DR Congo and Afghanistan.

The report said migrant workers represented more than 40 percent of the professional workforce in more than half of Australia’s industry sectors.

It said the migrant share of the labourer workforce has risen most strongly in Wholesale Trade, up by 8.8 percentage points to 44 percent of all workers.

A one percentage point increase in the share of migrant workers leads to an increase of 2.4 percentage point in the real wages of native-born workers, the report said.

It said 48 per cent of immigrants from non-English speaking countries have a tertiary degree, compared to 36 per cent of immigrants from English-speaking countries and 33 per cent of native-born Australians.

Only 60 per cent of migrants from a non-English speaking background are working in well-matched jobs

Skills mismatch accounts for one-third of the lower hourly earnings experience by migrants from non-English speaking countries, the report said.

The report said unfavourable attitudes to different minority groups in Australia are less prevalent in young generations, but more prevalent towards asylum seekers and those from a Muslim background.

Around 22 per cent of native-born Australians surveyed in 2016 said they would feel negative about having a Muslim neighbour, under six per cent would oppose a Buddhist neighbour.

It said negative attitudes towards Muslims are more prevalent among those who know less about the Muslim religion and are less exposed to Muslims.

Around 70 percent of native-born Australians oppose government assistance for ethnic minorities to preserve their traditions.

Being an Australian citizen is as important to 1st generation immigrants as it is to 2nd generation immigrants, the report said.

As of 2016, 73 percent of immigrants from non-English speaking countries were linguistically integrated, speaking English very well or well plus their own language, it said.