Regional migrants say the lack of a robust regional policy to create jobs and education avenues is the main reason why migrants choose to leave regional areas and move to bigger cities such as Sydney and Melbourne.
The Turnbull government on Tuesday announced it is considering changes to regional skilled visas that will demand migrants continue to stay in rural areas even after they secure permanent residency in Australia.
"If they've come in on the basis of being employed in a regional area, then we think it's not an unreasonable expectation that they stay in that area for a certain amount of time," Alan Tudge, Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, told reporters.
"We're looking at ways that we can effectively bind people to the regions if they've got a sponsorship to go to those locations."
The minister said many migrants who were specifically sponsored for regional jobs were later quitting those jobs and moving to the cities, perpetuating skills shortages in regional towns.
But those migrants who have settled in regional areas of Australia and call it ‘home’ say government first needs to create a robust ‘policy for migrants in regional areas’ before making such rules, as most of them are ‘being forced to move out’ for jobs and education.
John Paul Sinus moved with his wife to Alice Springs on a sponsored work visa six years ago.
“We have a very close-knit community in Alice Springs. The life is very good. There is barely any commuting hassle, there’s job security and there is ample time to engage in other activities like sports or community-related work,” he tells SBS Hindi.
However, he says many Indian migrants who live in Alice Springs have to leave when their children need higher education or specialised health care.
“Most of our migrants live here for seven to eight years, buy a house and have a good life but once their children grow up, they are being forced to move out to bigger cities like Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne for their education,” he says.
Mr Sinus, is an Australian citizen now and his family of four continues to live in Alice Springs. However he says he has interacted with many in the community, during his time as a migrant community outreach officer, who say their options are limited when it comes to accessing specialised healthcare services and good higher education.
“We all want a good future for our children. What can we do but leave?” he says.
Wagga Wagga resident Saba Nabi migrated from India’s capital city, New Delhi as an international student and loves her life in the rural town.
“It is a beautiful place," she says. "The cost of living is low, people are friendly and it is a small community where everyone is known to each other. I feel we save time in traffic. There’s no rush hence a stress-free life."
But there’s one core aspect she says she is struggling with.
It has been more than a year since she completed her PhD from Charles Sturt University, her family members are now permanent residents of Australia, but she is yet to find employment.
“I have been looking for a job for a year. I volunteer at several organisations in the town and have applied for numerous jobs in the local government and the health sector but several of the roles are taken up by city-dwellers,” she says.
“The Australian government demands locals are employed before hiring professionals from abroad but the same policy is not applied in rural areas."
Ms Nabi says locals are bypassed for experienced professionals.
"We need a policy for migrants in regional areas. Families who migrate need to feed their families. While there’s a lot being done for asylum seekers and refugees, which is acceptable, little is being done for skilled migrants who want to continue living in regional Australia.”
Last year, out of the 184,000 migrants given permanent places in Australia, nearly 12,000 visas granted were in regional areas.