The Australian economy could benefit to the tune of over $1 billion if more was done to harness the skills of migrants and refugees.
That is the conclusion of a new report launched in Canberra on Tuesday as the nation marked World Refugee Day.
The Billion Dollar Benefit report by non-profit Settlement Services International set out barriers limiting the workforce potential of migrants and refugees, recommending five solutions to unleash their talent by 2025.
Steps such as improving the skills and qualifications recognition system, strengthening protections for migrant workers, reviewing the right to work for people on temporary visas, partnerships across various sectors and reforming English language requirements could have major benefits.
Dr Mohammad Zubair Harooni, a refugee and former United Nations HIV program specialist who pioneered Afghanistan’s first HIV treatment centre, has been unable to find work in his field despite a 15-year medical career in his homeland and an Australian master’s degree in public health.
“Helping others is my passion, and I worked hard to make my successful career in public health a reality,” Dr Harooni said on Tuesday.
When he moved to Australia in 2022, Dr Harooni faced the arduous path many others like him take for their qualifications to be recognised.
“I applied for many positions of all levels in the health sector but despite my extensive career and qualifications, I faced rejection after rejection,” he said.
“I did not have Australian work experience so my qualifications and decades of experience became virtually invisible to employers.”
Sadia Ahmadi was on her way to becoming a dentist and about to complete her masters in Malaysia before the Taliban took control of her home town in Afghanistan.
Her family fled and she joined them. But that was just the beginning of another ordeal for the mother when she began applying for dental assistant jobs while updating her dental surgery qualifications and learning English at the same time in a new country.
“My applications were rejected repeatedly due to the lack of Australian experience. I know I’m a dentist, I have the qualification and years of experience,” she said.
After working as an unpaid volunteer at a dental surgery, Dr Ahmadi was eventually offered a paid part-time role.
“I have made many sacrifices to become an experienced dentist in Australia. I have dedicated almost 17 years of my life in this profession. I cannot leave it behind.”
Settlement Services International CEO Violet Roumeliotis said unlike most OECD countries, where migrants tend to be less qualified than the locally born population, the opposite is true in Australia where one in four permanent skilled migrants are working below their skill level.
“This is costing individuals the chance of meaningful employment, costing employers and also our economy $1.25 billion in lost wages alone every five years,” she said.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said migrants and refugees deserved the opportunity to realise their full potential.
“Like any other Australian, refugees and migrants deserve the opportunity to use their professional skills, experience and qualifications to build lives and livelihoods in Australia that are productive and fulfilling,” he said.
William Ton and Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)