Immigration

Construction industry absorbing majority of refugee entrepreneurs

Of almost 50,000 humanitarian visa holders recorded in 2011-12, 2467 ran their own business in the construction sector. (AAP) Source: AAP

Humanitarian migrants to Australia are more likely to start their own business than skilled migrants with new research showing it is the construction industry that is driving these migrant entrepreneurs.

The hard hat has become the gateway to a better life for thousands of humanitarian migrants to Australia, according to new research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Australians discovered last year that humanitarian migrants are typically more entrepreneurial than skilled migrants in that they are more likely to start their own business. 

Now a glimpse has been provided into just what kind of work is driving these migrant entrepreneurs - the opportunities presented by the construction industry.

“(This group) could just be your brickies and labourers, or they could have some skills. If the latter is the case, it’s really interesting as it’s showing a real effort to integrate and contribute to the economy."

Of almost 50,000 humanitarian visa holders recorded in 2011-12, 2467 ran their own business in the construction sector - more than double the number for any other sector, the research revealed.

Dr George Tan from the Hugo Centre for Migration and Population Research at the University of Adelaide said the research could reveal new insights about how humanitarian visa holders are contributing to the community.

“(This group) could just be your brickies and labourers, or they could have some skills,” he said.

"If the latter is the case, it’s really interesting as it’s showing a real effort to integrate and contribute to the economy."

The sector is made up of businesses engaged in the construction, alteration and repairs of buildings, according to the official ABS definition and it has a much smaller proportion of workers with university and year 12 qualifications than other industries.

Construction is also the most popular sector for business owners holding family visas, but the proportion is lower than for humanitarian visa holders. In contrast, skilled visa holders are more likely to start businesses in the transport and professional and technical trade sectors.

Provisional visa holders have an even higher concentration of businesses in the transport sector.

Dr Tan said this is most likely the result of a large number of young taxi drivers who have graduated from temporary graduate visas to provisional visas who are seeking to remain in Australia permanently.

The research also prompts more questions, according to Dr Tan. 

"What we don’t know a lot about is how many of these entrepreneurs or business owners are employing more people from their own background as well,” he said. "I think there’s a lot of that actually."

The research's use of people’s personal information has raised privacy concerns, though the ABS report seeks to alleviate these by promising the names were “anonymised” using their own method. 

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