Refugees’ skills and experience valued by employers

Kinan is now a driving instructor

Kinan is now a driving instructor

This story was first published on Thursday 31 January 2019. If you wish to use this content, please contact to confirm that the information is still current.

Research published by the Department of Jobs and Small Business shows that while refugees can find entering the labour market very challenging, Australian employers value their contribution and skills.

A recent survey asking employers about their experiences and attitudes to hiring refugees found that many reported positive outcomes after hiring a refugee, or had positive views on the benefits of hiring refugees.

However, entering the labour market in the first instance is very challenging for refugees, with an unemployment rate of 20% for migrants on humanitarian visas.

Of those using jobactive, 69% have spent more than a year looking for a job.

When refugees do land a job, most find work in lower skilled employment in the Health Care and Social Assistance, Construction and Manufacturing industries.

Labour Market Analyst Ivan Neville said that employers see language proficiency and relevant qualifications as the main barriers to employing a refugee, noting that many jobs require staff to read technical and safety information.

‘Of the employers we surveyed, 55% recommended that refugees who are looking for work focus on improving their language and communication skills,’ Ivan said.

‘Interestingly, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that 67% of refugees believe their English proficiency is good to very good.’

When discussing the benefits of hiring a refugee, 41% of employers referred to the cultural diversity they would bring to the business.

Additionally, 35% of employers said that refugees demonstrate enthusiasm and a strong work ethic.

‘Employers told us that refugees’ desire to create a better life makes them ambitious, committed and enthusiastic, demonstrating a strong work ethic and a willingness to learn – these are characteristics employers value highly,’ Ivan said.

When hiring refugees, employers reported a range of recruitment methods with word of mouth being the most effective, followed by job advertisements and recruiting through an agency.

Many surveyed employers who had hired a refugee either knew them personally through local school or community activities, or had the refugee referred to them by a friend or another employee.

To help boost their job prospects employers also said refugees would do well to include references from local employers or even a general character reference from someone in the area.

‘While employers are keen to offer refugees with the right skills and qualifications a job, a refugees’ language skills and connection to their local community are also very important factors when it comes to finding work,’ Ivan said.

Tips for refugee job seekers

  • Develop good English language and communication skills, essential for many jobs.
  • Connect with the local community. Developing links through school, study and community activities can improve networks and provide access to jobs that are not advertised.
  • Develop and sell work-related skills to employers. Having relevant qualifications and training, and identifying and promoting relevant skills, will improve the chances of finding a job.
  • Use a wide range of job search methods. Approaching employers directly, volunteering or using community organisations can open up more opportunities.
  • Consider different roles. There is a wide range of opportunities across various industries and occupations.

Read more about Employers' Recruitment Insights.

For more on the jobs market, visit Job Outlook and the Labour Market Information Portal.

Correct at time of publication.