Only 30 per cent of Australians live in rural or regional areas, causing concern to policy makers about the decreasing viability of small towns, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). CEO of the Regional Australia Institute, Jack Archer, says bringing migrants into rural areas could help communities to grow. But rural areas have an image problem.
Bringing migrants into rural areas could help communities to grow
“The first really important thing is regional communities and people within those communities prioritising migration as potentially the top strategy that they take to try and bring new people to their communities. The other side of things is changing the perception of regional Australia amongst the migrant community. What we do see anecdotally is there’s a negative perception of regions, there’s a misunderstanding of what the opportunities are, of the idea that there aren’t jobs or that there aren’t welcoming communities when the reality is quite different.”
Governments’ immigration programs are creating new pathways for migrants to choose the country
The ABS says around 20 per cent of the new migrant population settle across rural and regional Australia. University of Technology’s Professor Jock Collins says governments’ immigration programs are creating new pathways for migrants to choose the country.
“Most people who apply to be a permanent immigrant have to pass what’s called the points test, you get allocated points for your age, your English language ability, your employment, your education and you get extra points if you’re prepared to settle in regional and rural Australia, so that’s a carrot, that’s a drawcard. So, there’s a great diversity of permanent and temporary visa pathways to the bush and that’s been a big change in the last six or seven decades of Australian immigration history which has mainly funnelled new immigrants to the big cities.”
There’s a great diversity of permanent and temporary visa pathways to the bush
One migrant who made the decision to move to the bush is Akilesh Murthy. After two years living in Melbourne Akilesh Murthy decided to move with his wife to Albury-Wodonga, a regional twin-city town on the border of NSW and Victoria. He says the town and the community have exceeded their expectations.
“People are very warm, people are very welcoming here, compared to what I came across in the city. It’s not that people are bad in the city, it’s just that people in Albury-Wodonga are much, much warmer, more welcoming, more understanding and more knowledgeable and what we came across is that the family values are very similar to what we are used to back home in India, especially in country towns, the family values are very similar. You respect your elders, you give value to education, you give value to your work, family bonding is there, which I could not find in metropolitan cities.”
"The family values are very similar to what we are used to back home in India, especially in country towns."
Akilesh Murthy says they first visited the local multicultural resource centre, which introduced them to the local council, the Australian-Indian Association and the library.
“Albury library was a very important place for us in terms of any information that we wanted to gather and I would say the North Albury cricket club was another very important factor in our life in Albury-Wodonga because that’s where I made all my friends. And there were no Indians there, but they were all Australians, but everyone was so welcoming and warm. They’re just wonderful people. They help us to just gel in, as soon as possible, because the sooner you adapt to the culture and the situation the better for you.
He says he used a common interest in Indian and Australian culture to connect with the local community and find a job.
"I decided that I’ll join the cricket club and then make some friends and try and adapt myself into the Australian culture."
“And yes you go to each and every council until you’ve handed in your resume and hope for the best. But the best way is always referrals. So I decided that I’ll join the cricket club and then make some friends and try and adapt myself into the Australian culture which I think I, managed it pretty well and since I play cricket I thought that was one source where I can tap into and which I did and made a lot of friends in the North Albury cricket club, they help me find a job initially and then the rest is history.”
Often the key issue for migrants in rural and regional areas is the availability of support services to help them to adapt to their new home
Often the key issue for migrants in rural and regional areas is the availability of support services to help them to adapt to their new home. Professor Jock Collins says, with limited services local communities are creating their own support networks.
“So in some ways the regional and rural areas, particularly the smaller towns often lack that settlement infrastructure that the big cities have; migrant resource centres, various sorts of settlement services to provide education, language training and so forth. Nevertheless in many towns and cities there’s very much an innovative sort of response by the local service providers, the churches, the councils, in order to deal with the needs of newly arrived immigrants because they know that these newly arrived immigrants are critical for the prosperity and the survival and the growth of their town and their region.”
Successfully settling in a small town means getting a job early, often with a 457 visa
Professor Collins says successfully settling in a small town means getting a job early, often with a 457 visa.
“The critical thing for any immigrant is to get a job and for a lot of skilled immigrants the way in which the attraction works is that if you can get the offer of the job then that gives you a much better chance of either getting a permanent visa or getting a 457, a skilled temporary visa to work. So in many ways often the way that the dynamics of this migration flow to regional and rural Australia works is that the job is tiered up first and settled out before hand and things like qualifications and qualification recognition; those things can be negotiated before the immigrant arrives and I think that’s quite a good model really.”
The town of Nhill in Victoria’s Wimmera region has helped settle more than one hundred Karen refugees from Myanmar
The town of Nhill in Victoria’s Wimmera region has helped settle more than one hundred Karen refugees from Myanmar. The settlement program was spearheaded by the owner of Luv-a-Duck, a local company who provided the refugees with jobs. AMES Australia Settlement Manager of Research and Policy Jennifer Blencowe explains how the program worked.
It wasn’t only the employment opportunities which contributed to the program’s success
“It was a very well ordered resettlement. In 2010, ten members of the Karen community moved to Nhill and five adults of those ten people started working full time at Luv-a-duck. By 2011 there were seventy Karen people living there, at least one adult in every household had a job usually at that stage with Luv-a-duck so that a lot more Karen people would loved to have come I think, but the Karen community were very careful to make sure that when people moved, they moved to a job.”
"The Karen, were very keen to make sure that they were seen to be contributing to the local community."
Ms Blencowe says it wasn’t only the employment opportunities which contributed to the program’s success.
“They were a really good fit because they were people who came from rural backgrounds in Burma and they were people often who hadn’t had the chance to develop professional skills because of their refugee background so they were quite open to working in relatively low skilled processing work.”
Jennifer Blencowe believes migrants would also benefit from learning about their town and participating in the local community.
The settlement experience varies depending on the characteristics of the town and the personal attributes of the new migrants
“For example the Karen, were very keen to make sure that they were seen to be contributing to the local community so on land care tree planting days, they were the first out there planting the trees or reconstructing a historic little bridge across the river, or the kids joining the footy team. Making sure that as part of that movement they have some sort of plan that they will contribute as members of that regional community.”
Regional Australia Institute CEO Jack Archer doesn’t think there’s a magic formula. He says the settlement experience varies depending on the characteristics of the town and the personal attributes of the new migrants. He advises visiting the town and researching the local community prior to moving.
"A house, a job, a social life. Those are the things that I think really matter."
“Look I don’t think this is rocket science, it’s a social process and it depends on the background of the migrant, the enthusiasm of the community and then the actual process of integrating people into local life; a house, a job, a social life. Those are the things that I think really matter. We can play around with other incentives to try and trigger that process but fundamentally they’re the ingredients that our research and our engagement with people working in this space are the key, and so for any migrant or for any regional area looking to make this happen those are the three things we’ve got to get right.”
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