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Why migrants move to Sydney and Melbourne from regional areas

Source: Pexels

While a parliamentary inquiry is investigating why only 20 per cent of overseas arrivals settle in regional Australia, migrants who have lived in those areas say the government needs to do more to keep migrants there.

The growing congestion in Australia's major cities despite a cut announced to Australia's permanent immigration intake has sparked a parliamentary inquiry that will examine migration settlement strategies and migration settings in Australia. 

The joint standing committee on migration - headed by Liberal MP Julian Leeser will travel to different parts of Australia to understand the issue. 

"The answers to how to attract new settlers won’t be found in our big cities – so we’re going to travel to areas there migration settlement is and isn’t working, and talk to the people best placed to know why and why not," Mr Leeser said.

SBS Punjabi spoke to some migrants who have lived in Australia's regional areas and later moved to the capital cities. 

They say the government should ensure "suitable" employment opportunities for newly arrived migrants in regional areas.

Rajinder Kaur Bhullar lived in New South Wales’ Murray region for three years before moving to Melbourne in 2018. She says soon after arriving from India with her husband, the daily survival became a struggle for the couple.

“As new migrants, finding any work was difficult. There came a time when we weren’t sure if we would be able to pay our following week’s rent,” she told SBS Punjabi.

Though both Mrs and Mr Bhullar were able to find “low-paid” work in the second month of the arrival in Albury, the employers were “erratic” in paying them salary.

“We just wanted to start with anything and hoped that we’d eventually find work in our respective fields. But that turned out to be a pipe dream.”

Rajinder K Bhullar with her husband, Maninder.

Mrs Bhullar, who was a university lecturer in India – came to Australia on a Regional Skilled visa. Though her skills and educational qualification as a university lecturer were assessed by a competent Australian body, she was refused every teaching job she applied for.

“They said I didn’t have this qualification or that skill or experience.”

“My understanding has been that employers prefer local candidates for such jobs,” Mrs Bhullar said.

While she ultimately found shelf-stocking work at a supermarket in Albury, her husband who was a telecom engineer in India, found work as an NBN technician two years after arriving in Australia.

The couple moved to Melbourne soon after getting their permanent residency.

“Here I spend almost two hours every day just commuting between home and work. There’s hardly any time for the family, something that was great when we were in Albury.

“We would have never moved to Melbourne if I had a job in my occupation. There [in regional areas] are just not enough opportunities for new migrants,” she says. “And it’s extremely difficult, especially as new arrivals, to cope with such a situation, and I guess, the Government can do something about it so that people like us don't have to move to big cities."

Priyanka and her husband Nitin moved to Sydney in July last year after spending five years in Broome in WA.

Both of them work in the hospitality industry and had moved to the regional area for their permanent residency and say they would like to go back.

“We had never thought we would move to Sydney,” Priyanka told SBS Punjabi. “It’s too big, too fast and too expensive for us.”

Priyanka, her husband Nitin and their daughters.

She said her husband was almost “depressed” after being refused a managerial position despite applying for it several times in Broome.

“He applied for a number of jobs but he didn’t get through even one of those, and we just couldn’t understand the reason. He has the experience and qualifications. His employer was willing to offer the position, but without the perks that usually accompany it,” said Priyanka.

Nitin was then offered a transfer to Sydney in his current role and he accepted it.

“We are hoping, with his experience here in Sydney, he will be accepted for the role he is eyeing and hopefully, we will be able to go and live in a smaller city,” she said.

The Parliamentary Committee chair Julian Leeser said 187,000 international migrants settled in regional areas between 2006 and 2011 which equated to one in five of the total number of arrivals in that period.

"What we know is that some areas of Australia are having success attracting new migrants, while other areas are struggling to both attract and retain migrants and address skill shortages," Mr Leeser said.

The Department of Home Affairs figures last year revealed that a vast majority of newly arrived migrants- 87% were settling in Sydney and Melbourne.

The Federal Government, in March this year, announced incentives for those settling in regional areas. Those incentives include extra points for permanent residency and longer post-study work visa. The Government is also introducing two new regional visas in November this year that will require visa holders to stay in regional areas for a minimum of three years in order to be eligible for permanent residency. 


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Beginning the current financial year, there are 23,000 regional visas within the 160,000 cap. Under the regional visas, visa holders are allowed to relocate to another regional area but not to Australia's big cities - Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Southeast Queensland. 

State and territory nominated visa places have also been increased. 

Despite these measures, population projections in April's budget were revised upwards, reflecting a predicted surge in temporary arrivals, putting pressure on city services.

Melbourne migration agent Suraj Handa says for most new migrants the decision to move to big cities is financial. 

“It happens when someone in a regional area isn’t able to find work for some time - if they are on the permanent visa they move to a place where they can find work. If they have a temporary visa, they just wait out their temporary residency,” he told SBS Punjabi. 

He says increasing the minimum time of regional residency to three years and the government's emphasis on compliance will be effective to keep new migrants in regional areas longer.

“But for them to continue to live in those areas even after they become permanent residents, there have to be good employment opportunities for them,” he says.

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