With 44,600 jobs in the bush, communities are getting help to bring in migrant workers


A seven-step toolkit designed by the Regional Australia Institute has been rolled out in rural and regional Australia to attract more skilled employees to the area.

Video above: Regional employers are enocurgaing migrants and refugees to make the move.

The town of Rupanyup is about 300 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.

With a population of 500, agriculture underpins industry in the area, which is rapidly changing due to advances in technology.

But David Matthews, the director at Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, and a third-generation farmer in the town, said it has been difficult to attract skilled workers. 

"There still are jobs in the transport industry ... logistics and transport, so you can get jobs like that in factories and the road transport industry,” he told SBS News. 

David Matthews
David Matthews and migrant workers from Colombia.

But, he said, there was now higher demand for people who understand how to produce high yielding crops. 

“We no longer drive our harvesters or our tractors. We sit there and look at a screen. Everything is running off a GPS system, with an accuracy of two centimetres. So you need the technicians and the operators that can manage that equipment and can service that equipment - and finding that has been terribly hard."

Mr Matthews has successfully sponsored a small group of migrant workers mainly from Colombia to work on his farm.

He said there are now 10 migrants living in the town, and others from South America wanting to migrate to fill job vacancies - but it's not enough. 

Seven-step toolkit

The Regional Australia Institute (RAI), says there are currently more than 44,600 job vacancies in regional Australia that are proving hard to fill.

Chronic labour shortages have affected some regional areas, resulting in population decline and the closure of businesses.

This month saw the RAI launch of a new toolkit to try and help communities attract more migrants to settle in rural and regional Australia. 

The toolkit includes sections on how to welcome and host migrants, as well as securing employment and housing, and taking into account 'culture, customs, and environment'.  

Seven-step toolkit
RAI's seven-step toolkit for migrants.

The RAI is a policy institute devoted to issues concerning regional Australia. Its editor-in-chief Amanda Barwick told SBS News: 

"When a migrant and their family move to a regional community they have to feel welcome when they arrive and that's why in the toolkit we suggest that when a community is looking to do this, a committee is set up to follow the process through.”

When a migrant family are not made part of the community, they feel isolated and tend to leave.

- Amanda Barwick, RAI

“When a migrant family ... are not made part of the community we find they feel isolated and tend to leave. So if you can make sure that your community ... understand what is going on, you make your migrants feel welcome, they find that they tend to stay."

Drop in migration to regional areas

Government statistics show between 2017-18, of the more than 111,000 skilled migrants who arrived in Australia, just over 6,000 were part of the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, a 39 per cent decrease from the 2016-2017 period.

A 2018 study by Central Queensland University that looked at the factors keeping migrants from moving to the regions, suggested limited services, social isolation and a lack of opportunities to connect with people of a similar background were part of the problem.

Rupanyup, Victoria
Rupanyup, Victoria.

Rupanyup farmer Mr Matthews says it's not only social isolation that is failing to attract migrants - infrastructure is also an issue too.

A lack of suitable housing has prompted the community to set up Building Rupanyap, an initiative funding housing projects in the town.

"I initially thought the priority were jobs rather than houses, now I believe the priority is houses. We have another four families who would move to Rupanyup today if we had suitable houses for them. Our focus now is going into developing affordable housing. We need to assist them ... often they can't get it alone.”

He said the program was essential in keeping migrants in town.

“When a new arrival comes they have a house to rent and then we make that house available to buy. We feel this is the glue that will help them feel like they're part of the community."

Consultation key to make regional migration work

Emmanuel Musoni, arrived in Australia as a refugee from Rwanda and has worked closely with the RAI and the Scanlon Foundation to co-develop the toolkit.

He consulted with various migrant and refugee in the large cities to find out what the obstacles to moving to a regional town were.

Emmanuel Musoni
Emmanuel Musoni wants more migrants and refugees to settle in regional towns.

He also worked with various regional communities to help them better understand how to make their towns more attractive to migrants and refugees.

"If you are just an individual you can work as a community champion and support. If you come from a background of business, there are many businesses who have attracted migrants to come and they have formed bigger communities.

"For everyone in Australia there is no excuse. Everyone can support and help their communities welcome migrants."

For everyone in Australia there is no excuse. Everyone can support and help their communities welcome migrants.

- Emmanuel Musoni, former refugee

Tammy Wolffs, CEO of the Settlement Council of Australia, said if the government and regional communities wanted to encourage people to stay in regional areas they needed to do more to make it happen.

"There have been some mixed results from regional settlement, but where it's worked there have been all of those elements. You have got a welcoming community, you have got jobs, you have infrastructure and services that are going to offer support to migrants."

"We know at the same time, others that have been encouraged to settle in regional and rural locations have returned to urban centres if they have not been able to find work or if they have missed the social support of families and communities."

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