Migrant women a hidden economic asset








Australia is missing out on the skills and experience of tens of thousands of highly qualified women who arrive as the spouses or partners of skilled migrants because they struggle to find work, new research has found.

A qualitative survey canvassing the views of 63 new migrant women arriving on a partner visa, as well as employers and service providers by settlement agency AMES Australia, found significant barriers to these women getting into employment.

The research paper, titled  ”˜Hidden Assets: skilled migrant women and the Australian workforce’, concluded that early intervention to help migrant women find work could help Australia harness what is a “hidden asset”.

Lead researcher Dr Lisa Thomson said migrant women were not considered in economic terms as valuable and skilled assets but rather regarded as “trailing spouses”.

“With assistance from government-funded services and input from employers via early intervention programs, these women can become job ready and available to enter the labour market, fill job vacancies and meet skill shortages,” Dr Thomson said.

“This not only provides them with financial security and autonomy, it enriches the settlement process, mitigates the risk of social isolation and makes the transition into life in Australia much easier,” she said.

The study, funded by the federal government’s Office for Women, was aimed at understanding the experience of skilled migrant women from non-English speaking backgrounds entering Australia as partners under the skilled and family streams who are seeking employment.

Dr Thomson said Australian government policy had long prioritised skilled migration but had ignored the disparity between men and women in relation to how they transition to life in Australia.

“The women in this study demonstrated resilience, ingenuity and initiative in their approach to job searching and the challenges of navigating the labour market in a new country,” Dr Thomson said.

“They did not expect handouts, and had a strong desire to work and contribute to the community. Most wanted to work in a professional job but settled for lower status jobs to gain local experience.

“Many experienced significant changes in career trajectory in terms of downgrading or having to move into another area of employment outside their training and expertise,” Dr Thomson said.

She said women in rural areas were the most disadvantaged because of limited or no job vacancies.


“Their first priority was to be with their partner and to keep the family together. This meant that they either had to remain unemployed or take low level jobs if they were available,” Dr Thomson said.

She said unemployment or underemployment had a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing on a number of respondents.

“With support these women felt that they could more easily navigate the Australian labour market and secure employment,” Dr Thomson said.

The study noted that between 2010 and 2015 more than 157,000 women aged over the age of 18 migrated in the family stream ”“ the majority were partners or spouses.

More than 181,000 women migrated in the skilled stream and more than 70 per cent of these were married or partnered.

The study identified barriers to finding work including employers not understanding about temporary visas and work rights and a lack of knowledge of Australian workplace culture and recruitment practices among migrants.

Lack of local experience, domestic responsibilities, access to transport and proficiency in English were also recognised as barriers to employment.

The study found migrant women from non-English speaking countries tended to have: low labour force participation rates; higher unemployment and underemployment; lower earnings relative to their skills and qualifications; and, a high proportion of those in both the skilled and family migration streams are degree qualified.

Upon arrival in Australia many partner migrant women experience: re-domestication; de-skilling; and disrupted careers, the study found.

Dr Thomson said support and buy-in from employers was essential in getting migrant women into work.

“Employers need to be involved in the development of an intervention to assist skilled migrants and skilled migrant women into the Australian Workforce,” she said.

Dr Thomson said some employers were more proactive than others in employing skilled migrants and that organisations needed to embrace diversity in their workforce.

“A diverse workforce is good for business ”“ organisations are better at innovation, problem solving and finding solutions,” she said.

“An organisation’s workforce should reflect the cultural diversity of the community in which operates and/or is located.

“Having people from CALD backgrounds in senior leadership roles enhances diversity in an organisation,” Dr Thomson said.


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