Offshore Visibly Different Refugees: Employment Status as it Relates to their English Language Proficiency

By Nonja Peters.

Published by The Diversity Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

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

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 7, Issue 6, pp.39-58. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 657.420KB).

Dr. Nonja Peters

Curtin University Research Fellow, Humanities, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Dr Nonja Peters is founding Director of Curtin’s Migration, Ethnicity, Refugees and Citizenship Research Unit (MERC). The first of its kind in WA, MERC was established in 2001 to explore migration, ethnicity, refugees and citizenship issues from a local, state, national and international perspective. She is widely published in the area of forced and voluntary migration. She is also the curator of a number of exhibitions, including permanent displays at the Western Australian Museum (A New Australia: Postwar Migration to Western Australia, 1996) and the Northam Visitor Centre (A Sense of Place: Postwar Migration to Northam, 1998). Her current research focus is the maritime, military and migration history that underpins the 400 plus Dutch Australian connection and the preservation of immigrants’ cultural heritage.


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