Reasons for avoiding the regions
Government statistics show in 2016-17 of the more than 120,000 skilled migrants who arrived in Australia, just over 10,000 were part of the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme. Professor Teicher said part of the problem is many migrants have preconceived ideas about life outside the big cities. He said those ideas may be true in some instances but are wrong in others. The report shows common perceptions include that regional and rural life is characterised by social isolation, unwelcoming attitudes, lack of educational opportunity and poor mobile-phone and internet infrastructure. Professor Teicher said while there is a basis to those concerns, the issue is complex. “One of the other issues we identified is that there is a lack of communication about opportunities as well. That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with settling migrants or there aren’t migrants who settled in regional towns and then drifted to the cities. But I think it’s a complex issue, it’s not just one issue, that drives the settlement.” He said barriers to employing new migrants in regional areas can include limited knowledge about available jobs, lack of language proficiency, skills recognition and limited communication between migrants and employers. The report suggested future research should address how leaders in migrant communities can help migrants integrate into regional communities and build links with employers to encourage migration.
Nick Tebbey, chief executive of the Settlement Council of Australia, which represents migrant-resettlement agencies, said there are examples emerging of communities coordinating with employers and the government. But, he says, such initiatives are still in the early stages. “A lot of communities are really only starting to turn their minds to this issue now … But, certainly, where we’ve seen communities and local councils and others get behind this idea, we’ve seen some really fantastic success stories of where they’ve been able to support new Australians to come and live there.” Other suggestions include setting up cultural activities and support programs in towns as part of a coordinated campaign to ease concern about limited opportunities for migrants and their children. The report also suggested friends and relatives already living in Australia can play a role in attracting a critical mass of migrants to a particular area.
The small town of Pyramid Hill, in Victoria’s north, is one example of a town that has successfully attracted and integrated migrants. About 100 Filipinos now make up one-quarter of the town’s population, many working in the town’s agricultural sector. Many of the workers have been attracted there through word of mouth. Mr Tebbey said it is time for better education campaigns to sell the benefits of regional migration. “What we really need to see more of, and something that I think will really turn this whole issue on its head, is an education and awareness campaign that really tells people about what’s possible out in regional and rural Australia.” Mr Tebbey said it would allow migrants to make more informed decisions about where they might be able to live and what opportunities would be there for them if they did move.
Importance of community
Professor Scott Baum, from Griffith University’s School of Environment and Science, said any future plans to attract workers needed to address the seasonal nature of some agricultural work, which can leave employees with unstable employment. He says, once a region is identified as having a labour shortage with ongoing employment prospects, support services should be put in place to attract a critical mass before, not after, migrants arrive. He says one way of addressing the issue is to have a place-specific focus in recruitment campaigns when working with different ethnic communities. Professor Baum suggested beyond that, governments should not underestimate the importance of a sense of community for people moving to new places. “I think there’s also the issue around social networks. You only have to look at the reasons why people move to particular places, be they migrants or other people, and a lot of that is about social networks.”
He said after recently having travelled through western, outback Queensland, he said he would find it difficult living in some places. “Let alone someone who’s just moved to Australia and perhaps doesn’t have very good English skills and tries to settle into a place which is, in a lot of cases, quite foreign.” Earlier this year, the Federal Government flagged a plan for diverting up to 45 per cent of permanent migrants to visas which would force them to spend a number of years in regional areas or smaller states, including South Australia. The plan raised questions about how the government could force migrants to stay in the regions without running into legal disputes over restricting freedom of movement.