Settlement Guide

Temporary migrants face extra barriers job-seeking during COVID-19

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The pandemic’s economic fallout has the Reserve Bank of Australia predicting the unemployment rate is likely to rise to 10 per cent by the end of the year, affecting not just local workers, but many temporary migrants whose job hunting efforts have become more challenging than ever.


  • Migration agents encourage temporary migrants to state their visa conditions for work when applying for jobs.
  • Recruiters say candidates who are open to short-term contracts and able to work remotely have higher chances of getting a job.
  • Job-seeking international professionals are connecting virtually during isolation for advice and support.

Few could have predicted the economic difficulty many Australian businesses and job seekers find themselves in.

The blow to the economy is what the federal treasurer has called “a once-in-a-century shock.”

According to Nick Houston, director and solicitor at VisAustralia, temporary visa holders are caught in an uncertain labour market drastically different to how it was when they made plans to move to Australia prior to COVID-19.

They’ve come to Australia on a base of a set of circumstances that there are jobs here or they had a particular job and that’s all changed.

Houston encourages temporary visa holders to provide a succinct statement on their visa status and work rights when applying for jobs.

The regional director of global recruitment firm Hays, David Cawley, agrees that employers need clarity from job applicants on temporary visas to prove that they can work for at least six months.

He says international job seekers face the challenge of being up against Australians job applicants with local industry experience and no work restrictions.

Empty Burke Street Mall

The lack of Australian experience is the biggest barrier Indian-born electrical engineer Paulvin Mathew continue to face since he was granted work rights in March after quitting his job in Kuwait to marry his Australian wife in December. 

Mathew, who managed to enter the country just before border closures, has had to adapt to a completely different culture from accents, to jokes and communication style.

Even after having seven years’ experience, I have to starting from scratch, making a cover letter or CV in the Australian format.

Victoria-based settlement agency, AMES Australia is experiencing a trebling of calls for job assistance from temporary migrants than usual.

Media Manager Laurie Nowell says many temporary migrants are paying their bills through the gig economy delivering food or working in hospitality jobs that are still open.  

Nowell admits it is a tough job market for newcomers but upskilling is strongly recommended by taking advantage of free TAFE courses to improve one’s English skills and employability.

Cawley says if English is not a candidate’s native language, being able to demonstrate highly efficient written and verbal communication skills may help.

Cawley also says successful candidates are those who can adapt to the new COVID-19 work environment as the world of work gets more agile and nimbler.

People with relevant IT or tech experience that can support organisations that had to move from maybe office environment into hybrid work environments or 100 per cent at home environment.

AMES Industry and Client Manager Mandy Ratcliffe says jobs are still available to eager workers who do not necessarily have any experience or local qualifications.

Ratcliffe says this is highlighted by the fact that AMES have been placing people in employment in July.

We have a pet food distributor that's looking for people that are willing to just pack hay. 

A recent Hays survey of 1,100 employers conducted in June found that nearly one in five currently have a recruitment freeze and over a third are still hiring.

Cawley is seeing job demands in health care, aged care, procurement, pharmaceutical research, online marketing, manufacturing, IT, supply and logistics, banking, cleaning and mining.

Gold mining operations in Western Australia
AAP Image/Kim Christian

He says with some overseas call centres incapacitated by outbreaks, there are opportunities for short-term workers as Australian businesses rapidly transition to set up onshore call centres to fill the gap. 

Cawley says being flexible to short-term contracts is essential in any job markets.

As Australia increasingly moves to Telehealth and digital engagement, people who have worked in countries like the UK, the US or parts of the EU where online interactions are more established may appeal to organisations who are making that transition.

Somebody may not have the local experience but they might have some sort of transferable experience. 

Ratcliffe urges job seekers not to simply focus their energy on job searching at home but to connect with others for support.   

You need some advice and career counselling advice has never been more important than it is here right now.

Mathew initially had a job offer with an Adelaide firm. But due to border closures, he was notified that the company preferred hiring locally instead.

Since then, Mathew became a full-time job seeker.

Desperate to immerse himself in the Australian work culture despite being socially isolated at home, Mathew became an active LinkedIn networker.

I had to approach many people through LinkedIn, many strangers, reaching out to people for guidance.

It was in the virtual world that he connected with a group of Australian-based engineers, mostly of Indian heritage, who are also caught in the job limbo caused by coronavirus.   

The support and advice Mathew received from industry professionals helped him to eventually secure his first two interviews by proactively making follow up calls after dozens of job applications.

For one job, you might be getting 200 or 300 applications so recruiters won’t be going through your CV,so your call sometimes makes a big difference.

While many are feeling the pressure with the Reserve Bank forecasting a ten per cent unemployment rate by the end of the year, Houston believes locally based temporary visa holders are in a better position than their overseas counterparts who have not been able to cross the frontier.

Busy call centre
Getty Images/GCShutter

Cawley says despite the harsh reality that individuals may not secure roles in the current job market, there are opportunities on the other side of the pandemic for those who are job-ready. 

If you can demonstrate that you have taken steps to make yourself more attractive as an employee, that is certainly going to show the quality of you as an individual to an employer in the future.

Mathew is volunteering with a local NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) in Newcastle to improve his communication skills and gain local experience.

At one stage, he was working as a casual staff at a take away outlet. But recent outbreaks in New South Wales have diminished his two days-a-week casual work to an on-call basis.

I have faced struggles so I know this is nothing.There is nothing forever.

If you are under stress and need emotional support, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636

or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you need immediate phone interpreting, call the national Translating and Interpreting Service on 13 14 50.



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