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Why hiring people seeking asylum makes good business sense
It may come as a bit of a surprise that people seeking asylum who are living in the Sydney community are still facing significant challenges. Since mid-2018 Federal income support for people asylum has been cut, making these adults and their families even more impoverished and marginalised.
This year, fewer than 10% of the people the Asylum Seeker Centre (ASC) supports are eligible for even the most limited income support. So it’s become more pressing than ever that people seeking asylum find work quickly.
According to the ASC Employment Service, their candidates are often job-hunting while learning English, dealing with the stressful early stages of claiming protection, and dealing with mental or physical health challenges, all while living in cramped or temporary accommodation, and settling their children into a new school.
“They have lots of skills and talent to offer the market but can face barriers including employers being risk-averse to hiring someone on a bridging visa – or not knowing what a bridging visa is and thinking they can’t legally hire people seeking asylum, which they can,” Alex Taylor, Employment Coordinator at ASC shared.
She revealed the key barrier faced by asylum seekers is finding safe and appropriate work.
“Part of our role is educating and advocating for candidates around their work rights, in a policy context that has given them very few options except to take any job to survive,” she said.
As part of its Giving Back initiative, Michael Page recently hosted its fourth workshop with the ASC. The day involved sessions covering job interviews and CV advice, as well as allowing candidates to ask our recruitment consultants a variety of questions about the world of work.
For the last few years, Michael Page has provided time and recruitment expertise to candidates to help them get a start locally.
“Our company’s Giving Back initiative is a major pillar of our culture and part of our purpose to change people’s lives,” Ross McLelland, Associate Director of Finance at Michael Page said.
“Working with the ASC, we can use our expertise as recruitment experts to support their members in finding work – through training to build better CVs and helping them perform better for interviews. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for our consultants to engage with the community, providing one-on-one mentoring sessions to job seekers.”
An attendee from last month’s workshop, who was a doctor from Afghanistan, said: “The workshop gives us a new experience and new hope for a good job in Australia. It would be great to see other organisations give more chances for a job.”
Below, Taylor addresses some of the key questions and concerns raised by employers on the issue of hiring a person who is seeking asylum.
What employers need to know
Q: Do Australian businesses have people seeking asylum on their radar as potential employees?
AT: Employers have a growing awareness that people seeking asylum have valuable skills to offer in the workplace – and the fact that hiring someone who is seeking often means you get great value for someone with very high-level skills.
Larger corporate employers with more evolved CSR and D&I strategies are creating and resourcing programs to hire and retain asylum seekers and refugees. And there are also smaller businesses who hire one or two people seeking asylum and really invest in them, making them part of their unique team culture.
The ASC Employment Service is approached at least once a week by an empathetic employer who wants to give people at least a chance, which is always a heartening phone call for me to receive.
The ASC Employment Service works closely with our network of partner employers who will consider our candidates for opportunities, even if they lack local work experience. We work with these employers into the future to make sure placed candidates retain their employment, and that it’s a good fit for both the candidate and the workplace.
Q: After education, what’s the next step for employers?
AT: Actually investing in people, training them properly, briefing the team about hiring people who are seeking asylum and why that is important to the business. Giving people a stable job with sufficient pay and hours, and a contract, helps people seeking asylum to relax a bit and to focus on work, on learning a new job in a new market, and increases the chances of success.
It takes resources from the business but it’s more realistic and leads to better outcomes for everyone involved in the end.
Sung Ho Lee, Regional Director at Michael Page ran through valuable interview tips during the workshop with the ASC.
Q: What do people seeking asylum need help with the most?
AT: The main thing our candidates need is a chance at genuine employment. Our candidates need help getting their foot in the door locally, either with a job or with local networking. The ASC Employment Service acts as a proxy local network by leveraging our partner employers to give candidates a chance. Our candidates may not have local experience and may have some gaps in their CVs, especially people who have been in detention previously.
The ASC Employment Service works with local employers and organisations to run workshops to assist our candidates to upskill in the local context.
Myth busting for employers
- Bridging visas. Many employers are concerned about what a bridging visa is and how it works. They assume they can’t hire someone on a bridging visa or that it will be painful, risky or expensive. Generally, bridging visas are the bridge between the visa that someone had when they arrived in Australia, and hopefully their eventual protection visa. Bridging visas last for as long as the process of seeking protection lasts, which is generally 3 to 5 years. All the candidates in the ASC Employment Service have full, unrestricted, ongoing work rights. The ASC can also check work rights for employers if they take on a candidate to provide support with HR administration.
- Overqualified candidates. ASC candidates sometimes have mid-career experience and high-level skills but are applying for local entry-level roles to get their foot in the door. Candidates know and accept that they will have to start from the bottom a lot of the time to get local experience. Even though a candidate may look like they are overqualified, they will be a high value hire who has great skills and be keen to learn the local context.
- “We’ll give them a go as a casual”. Some employers give people seeking asylum a chance by taking them on as a casual. Around half of ASC candidates get casual work and sometimes these roles grow and become more stable. However, some end up still having to job-hunt in order to secure a full-time permanent job to make ends meet. Some employers are under-investing in candidates to reduce risk but they’re also reducing the chances of the employee being able to afford to stay in the role, which can be frustrating for an employer.
Taylor urged all employers to genuinely consider people seeking asylum for roles.
“Wherever possible I’d encourage employers to treat people seeking asylum like any other candidate and properly invest in them in order to increase the chances of success,” she said.
“Our candidates bring extensive experience and vast skills, as well as courage, resilience and a huge drive to build a life and settle in Sydney so they have every reason in the world to take a work opportunity and run with it. It makes business sense to hire people seeking asylum.
“I’m proud that the ASC Employment Service has built many ongoing business relationships with employers who see us as a valuable, free, ethical recruitment source.”
McLelland added: “We are proud of our partnership with the ASC and are actively exploring new opportunities we can support. This includes several of our employees signing up for full-day volunteering at the centre using their annual paid volunteer day, which is a benefit provided to all our staff to support our Giving Back initiatives.”
More information about the Asylum Seekers Centre can be found here.