Despite refugees being chosen for their ‘resettlement potential’, highly skilled newcomers remain disadvantaged in the Australian labour market and their human capital unexploited. Employment outcomes for refugees are consistently worse than for all other entry categories, in terms of both higher rates and longer duration of unemployment periods. This is unacceptable given Australia’s economic prosperity and the extensive shortages of skilled and unskilled labour the current economic boom has engendered. The question this raises is, “why, in a market place where skills shortages abound, do refugees with the requisite skills fail to obtain employment? Is it racism or skills not translating well internationally, or should we look elsewhere?” Recent research into the employment status of visibly different refugees in the Western Australian labour market by Colic-Peisker, Tilbury and Peters (2004-2006) while confirming the existence of systemic racism, also noted that refugees’ proficiency at the host language had major implications for employment outcomes. In this article I look at how non-English speaking refugees acquire their English language communication skills and how this skill is assessed by the market place. A missing element in the current dynamics is a narrative between government and private stakeholders (employers) about the nature that language proficiency should take in training schemes and job recruitment procedures, given that the communication skills required to function adequately at various levels of the Australian labour market are at all times far greater than the level required for simply making a new life in Australia, socially. What appears to be missing is standardised coursework that culminates in an objective test administered by an independent organization that realistically aligns refugees’ host language proficiency with labour market options and possibilities.
|Keywords:||Refugees, Visible Difference, Racism, Communication Skills|
Curtin University Research Fellow, Humanities, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
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