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How skilled migrants could boost the economy

By Jack Campbell | |4 minute read

Skilled migrants and refugees are an underutilised way to reduce talent shortages.

20 June marked World Refugee Day. Coinciding with this day is the release of the Billion Dollar Benefit: A roadmap for unleashing the economic potential of refugees and migrants report by Settlement Services International (SSI).

The report discusses the barriers faced by migrant workers and provides five solutions that can help to unlock their potential by 2025.


The five solutions listed by SSI are:

  1. Fix the broken skills and qualifications recognition system, including through a national body.
  2. Strengthen protections for migrant workers.
  3. Review the right to work for people on temporary visas.
  4. Scale innovative “tripartite” partnerships between the public, private and NGO sectors.
  5. Reform English language requirements so they are fit for purpose.

According to SSI, a quarter of permanent skilled migrants in Australia 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,” said SSI chief executive Violet Roumeliotis.

“Practical steps to unleash the potential of this workforce involve fixing the broken skills and qualifications recognition system, strengthening protections for migrant workers, reviewing the right to work for people on temporary visas, scaling innovative cross-sector partnerships, and reforming English language requirements to ensure they are fit for purpose.”

According to Australia’s Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Giles, migrants and refugees are one of the top assets, and participation can help to fuel the economy.

“Providing sustainable pathways to meaningful employment is key to supporting migrants and refugees to build a sense of belonging and inclusion in Australia,” said Mr Giles.

“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.”

One organisation that is tapping into this talent pool is IKEA. The furniture retailer began a three-year program that provides refugees and asylum seekers secure employment. The company has now evolved this plan into a permanent policy.

Harriet Pope, IKEA’s refugee workforce inclusion leader, commented: “The pilot program has proved the mutual benefits of supporting refugees to enter the Australian workforce are significant, including pride in an inclusive culture, greater cross-cultural competence and new mentorship skills for IKEA co-workers.”

“Shared languages and deeper cultural connections are also creating a better customer experience, and we have access to a new talent pipeline of adaptable, resilient, and loyal co-workers in what has been a challenging labour market.”

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.