SBS Radio App

Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience

  • (Getty Images)
Finding a job is a priority for migrants moving to Australia. But most workers need to be able to speak and write English well. Migrants can access free English classes to learn the basics of English or to improve their language skills to get a job.
Audrey Bourget, Marcia de Los Santos

31 Aug 2017 - 10:59 AM  UPDATED 5 Sep 2017 - 4:13 PM

When moving to Australia, learning English is essential to find work and connect with the broader community. Mehako Obaidullah, a former refugee from Afghanistan, believes that life will be much easier for migrants with adequate levels of English.

“Finding your way around, accessing services, communicating, these all are important parts of daily life, so it’s not only about coming to Australia, it’s also about settlement. So in the long term you need a job and in order to get a job you need literacy, you need education, you need language, you need skills.”

He says that not knowing English creates barriers for newly arrived migrants and refugees.

“Most migrants, refugees or asylum seekers who come with lower levels of literacy; they experience very harsh situations in the labour market. Their limitations in terms of language keeps them in the shadow of the corporate world. By that what I mean is that they cannot complain, they don’t know how to complain, they cannot raise their voice.”

When moving to Australia, learning English is essential to find work and connect with the broader community.

Mehako Obaidullah already had strong English skills when he arrived from Afghanistan. But for those who need help learning the basics of the English language, there is the Adult Migrant English Program, or AMEP. Catherine Devlin, Operations Manager at Adult Learning Australia, explains what it is.

“The Adult Migrant English Program provides English language courses for eligible migrants and also for humanitarian entrants. For eligible people, they can get up to 510 hours of free English language tuition. That's sort of aimed at migrants for settlement purposes."

The AMEP is offered to newly arrived permanent residents, refugees and holders of several temporary visas. It's offered all over Australia, and for most eligible people, the courses are free.

If you already have a foundation in English, but you need to improve your reading and writing skills to find a job, you should look into the Skills for Education and Employment program, also called SEE.

“There's also another program called the SEE program. The SEE program provides English language, literacy and numeracy training, and that's more geared towards job seekers. Eligible people have access to up to 800 hours for free of English language, literacy and numeracy training that has more of a job focus."

These language courses are given in community and adult learning centres, which helps to pathway into professional courses later on.

“It's a highly-supported, ace learning environment, and it also helps them to pathway into different or further study. Often these community providers have good partnerships with other organisations or they run accredited programs themselves or job skills or those foundation skills programs that best suit the needs of these types of learners."

Adult learning providers are very flexible learning environments. Students can take lessons in a classroom or do distance learning. They can study full-time or part-time, during the day or in the evening. They also often offer childcare services.

And they cater very well to students from different linguistic backgrounds. Rochelle Beatty is the head of AMEP at Melbourne Polytechnic, where 45 per cent of the students were either born overseas or had their parents born overseas.

“The majority of providers will have bilingual administration staff to assist people when they make their initial inquiries to make sure they have all the relevant information in their first language. Often in AMEP classrooms, there will be volunteers, bilingual volunteers to support new clients that are at a lower level of English. And also for people who had more of a disrupted education before arriving in Australia, they are offered additional support."

Rochelle Beatty's colleague, Lindee Conway, is the Head of School for Foundation and Preparatory Studies at Melbourne Polytechnic. She says that adult learning providers run programs of interest to migrants because it's a big part of their cohort.

“Cultural differences lead to a lot of confusion for new arrivals so we teach very explicit information that helps people understand not just the language, not just the job they're training for, but also the workplace they're going into."

For people who struggle with learning in more formal environment, adult learning can provide a home that’s friendly and flexible.

“We are a specialist adult educator, you will not be treated like a small child in a grown-up body, you'll be treated respectfully and we'll make the course work for you."

To find more about the Adult Migrant English Program and the Skills for Education and Employment program, and to check if you're eligible, go to the Australian government website. And to find an adult learning provider near you, check out the Adult Learning Australia website.

Useful links:


AMEP (information in 26 languages) 


Reading Writing Hotline 1300 6 555 06

Adult Learners Week 1-8 September

AMES Australia - migrant and refugee settlement services

Adult Learning Australia

How to access free English classes for new migrants
The Australian government provides free English classes for migrants and refugees.