Our Story

The Billion Dollar Benefit campaign is a movement of individuals and organisations committed to reducing employment barriers so skilled refugees and migrants can work in their fields of expertise and contribute billions of dollars to the Australian economy. 

We are a wide-ranging advocacy coalition – spanning employers, unions, peak bodies, research institutions and NGOs – united in our mission to support skilled refugees and migrants to achieve their full economic potential.

5 by 2025

We consulted 50 experts across five sectors on the most impactful solutions to reduce the employment barriers facing skilled refugees and migrants. We agreed on five priority solutions to implement by 2025:

By tapping into the expertise and experience of refugees and migrants already in Australia, we can add billions to the Australian economy, plug critical skills gaps, and provide employment opportunities for newcomers to Australia. It’s a win-win-win scenario.

Breaking down barriers to refugee and migrant employment isn’t a job for government alone, although government plays an important role. It is a responsibility and opportunity shared by employers, non-government organisations, unions, refugee-led organisations, and all levels of government.

Fix the skills and qualification recognition system

Australia’s system to recognise overseas qualifications and skills is not working. It needs a significant overhaul. The good news – we know how.

“I had experience as an engineer overseas and then I did my masters here in Australia. But it was still difficult to get a job in my field. I ended up driving Uber to make ends meet. At times I wondered if I would ever get a job as an engineer. I am very happy now working as a flood damage recovery engineer in Horsham. It is a great relief to get work in my field and use my skills.” – Mohammad Hassaan Masood, an engineer from Pakistan who found his dream job working in his field in regional Australia.” 

For too many skilled migrants, their excitement to live and work in Australia is quickly replaced by the stress of navigating a complex recognition system of more than 34 authorities spanning 450 occupations. This complexity deters many migrants from applying for recognition altogether. Even those who do apply often face a severe risk of de-skilling because of how slow and time-consuming the process can be.

Establish a national oversight body to ensure fairness, consistency and affordability in the way skills and qualifications are assessed. A similar body in Ontario, Canada, has led to a 59 per cent increase in the licensing of overseas trained professionals.

Follow Ontario’s example by setting up an Office of the Fairness Commissioner, as currently there is no oversight body. This will help ensure recognition procedures are transparent and consistent.

A one-stop-shop for recognition information like the ‘Recognition in Germany’ portal would be another step in the right direction. Germany’s multilingual portal includes an innovative ‘recognition finder’ tool where applicants enter their profession and city to receive tailored, step-by-step information on how to get their skills recognised. Within four years of the portal being launched, the number of applications for foreign skills recognition in Germany more than doubled.

What governments should do

  • Establish a national skills recognition oversight body
  • Harmonise recognition processes
  • Restore assessment subsidies for overseas trained professionals
  • Set up a national online portal for all information on skills recognition processes

What employers should do

  • Pilot ‘learn while you earn’ arrangements
  • Value overseas experience, not just local experience
  • Reduce fees for skills recognition
  • Review recruitment processes for cultural inclusion

What NGOs should do

  • Support newcomers to navigate the system
  • Provide a platform for refugees and migrants to advocate for change
  • Help gather and support necessary documents to be translated to be assessment ready

Protect migrant workers

“No single person should control both your passport and your paycheck – it’s a recipe for exploitation. We need to end migrant worker exploitation once and for all, and that starts with ensuring employers have less control over someone’s visa status.” – Violet Roumeliotis, CEO of Settlement Services International.”

Ending the exploitation of migrant workers is important, first and foremost, to prevent the suffering of affected workers and to uphold their rights. Protecting migrant workers is also key to Australia’s reputation.

According to a survey of more than 700 temporary visa holders, almost two thirds reported being paid less than the minimum standards, and a quarter reported other forms of workplace exploitation like forced or unpaid overtime. There are even reports of employers withholding a visa holder’s passport. This is unacceptable.

Replace employer-sponsored visas with industry-sponsored visas to allow greater flexibility for migrants to move between employers in an industry, which reduces the control of a single employer and the risk of exploitation. Whistleblower protections must also be guaranteed for migrants who wish to file a complaint against their employer.

All 22 recommendations made by the 2019 Migrant Worker Taskforce should be implemented. When a migrant worker reports labour exploitation, any breaches of visa-specific work conditions must not provide grounds for cancelling their visa. Refugee and migrant service organisations should also be resourced to educate newcomers on their workplace rights in Australia.

What governments should do

  • Implement the recommendations of the Migrant Workers Taskforce
  • Explore industry-sponsored solutions rather than employer-sponsored solutions
  • Enhance whistleblower protections for migrant workers

What employers should do

  • Be role model, culturally-safe employers
  • Review business models and supply chains for any signs of migrant worker exploitation
  • Build capability to call out modern slavery with relevant policies

What NGOs should do

  • Be role model, culturally-safe employers
  • Educate newcomers on their work rights
  • Build workforce capability and clearer referral mechanisms for frontline workers to provide support to protect worker’s rights

Review the right to work

The Australian government should conduct a review into the right to work for people on temporary visas, with a view to ensuring people seeking asylum can work while their applications are processed.

Denying work rights often leads to a loss of skills, increases reliance on the social welfare system, prevents newcomers feeling included, and makes it harder to break into the job market at a later stage. Inconsistency in work rights sometimes leads businesses to exclude non-citizens from recruitment processes.

People who seek asylum in Australia should be able to work while they wait for their refugee status to be processed. As many as 20 per cent of people seeking asylum and refugees on bridging visas at any given time are not allowed to work, despite being eager to work and often highly educated.

The Australian government should conduct a review into the right to work for people on temporary visas. People with lived experience seeking asylum and employment in Australia should be consulted and guide the review process. Once the review is completed, an awareness campaign should be launched to inform employers that all people seeking asylum and refugees on bridging visas can work, giving them certainty and confidence to recruit.

What governments should do

  • Review and rectify the denial of work rights for people on temporary visas
  • Share information with employers on work rights

What employers should do

  • Not assume that everyone on a temporary visa is unable to work
  • Hire newcomers
  • Review recruitment processes for cultural inclusion
  • Engage experts to deliver cultural confidence training at all levels

What NGOs should do

  • Support newcomers to understand their work rights
  • Support newcomers to navigate the Australian job market and secure suitable employment
  • Advocate for work rights for people seeking asylum

Scale cross-sector partnerships

Partnerships are powerful, especially when it comes to supporting refugees and migrants to work in their fields of expertise. Governments, businesses, and non-government organisations all have a role.

Employing refugees and migrants enables businesses to tap into a diverse, motivated group of talented people. Breaking down barriers to refugee and migrant employment is a shared responsibility, and this should be role modelled through a partnership approach.

Innovative ‘tripartite’ partnerships between the public, private and NGOs sectors are key to provide wrap-around employment solutions for newcomers to Australia. This could be facilitated through the rollout of place-based refugee and migrant employment hubs.

Refugee and migrant employment hubs could be piloted in the first instance, bringing together local employers, refugee and migrant service organisations, multicultural communities, and the various levels of government to trial local employment solutions. To help enable this, Workforce Australia should grant more ‘Refugee’ and ‘CALD’ licenses to experienced settlement service providers so they can help link newcomers with employers.

What governments should do

  • Pilot refugee and migrant employment hubs in regional and metropolitan centres
  • Scale-up pre-employment training and employment services for refugees and migrants
  • Trial tax incentives for businesses to hire skilled refugees and migrants

What employers should do

  • Embed culturally inclusive recruitment pathways
  • Champion refugee and migrant employees
  • Trial ‘learn while you earn’ paid placements
  • Promote career progression pathways for refugees and migrants

What NGOs should do

  • Support businesses to become inclusive and welcoming
  • Provide high-quality settlement services to support work readiness and retention
  • Scale specialist employment services and career mentoring programs for refugees and migrants

Reform English requirements

“Although I already knew how to express myself and engage with new people in English, my first months were difficult. In job interviews, I would struggle to understand the interviewer as they would speak quickly, and I’d have to ask them to speak slower or repeat their questions. But day by day I got better.” – Salwa Afif Razzouk, office worker with bachelor’s degree in law and master’s in public management from Syria.”

In many industries, English requirements are higher than they need to be. This arbitrarily locks out skilled refugee and migrant talent.

Excessive English language requirements are a major barrier for many refugees and migrants seeking to work in their field. For example, many clinical staff from overseas struggle to pass the English language criteria in Australia, which are set at a medical doctor standard by the health practitioner regulator. This means many migrant patients miss out on access to clinicians who speak their language. English language tests are also expensive, and some people need to take them multiple times.

English language requirements should be fit-for-purpose. They should be based on the minimum viable level of English required to competently and safely perform a given role. This isn’t about reducing standards; it is about ensuring standards are based on the needs of a job.

Currently, a minimum score of 7.0 on the IELTS is required in each of the four components (listening, reading, writing, and speaking) for many occupations. The approach should be more tailored and flexible. For example, the Nursing and Midwifery Council in the UK lowered the threshold for the writing component for skills recognition and professional registration of nurses, from 7.0 to 6.5, and saw an increase in labour productivity in the health sector.

What governments should do

  • Subsidise IELTS exams for humanitarian entrants
  • Continually improve the Adult Migrant English Program, including through on-site, subsidised language learning in the workplace

What employers should do

  • Review English language requirements and ensure they are fit-for-purpose
  • Implement inclusive recruitment practices
  • Provide on-the-job English learning

What NGOs should do

  • Support newcomers with English training, conversational English, and employment support
  • Support employers to reassess English requirements

Our Ambassadors

Get in touch

Got questions? We’re glad you asked. Check out our Frequently Asked Questions page for common queries.

Interested in a media story? Please contact the media team on press@ssi.org.au or call SSI’s Head of Executive Communications and Media, Hannah Gartell, on 0423 965 956.

"*" indicates required fields

This form is managed by Settlement Services International (SSI) on behalf of the Billion Dollar Benefit campaign. We are committed to protecting your privacy. In filling out this form, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.