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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1998  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/1998   
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Contents >> Work >> Paid Work: Migrants in the labour force

Paid Work: Migrants in the labour force

Migrants who arrived as adults (aged 18 years or over) between 1986 and 1996 represented about 6% of the labour force in November 1996.

Immigration has played a major role in the growth of Australia's population and economy. Earlier migration policy had an underlying assumption that a successful migrant is one who contributes to Australian productivity through employment.1 The more recent increase in family reunion and humanitarian migrants has changed that emphasis to a broader view of immigration (see Australian Social Trends 1998, Changes in immigration intake). However, a major issue relating to immigration continues to be the impact of the program on the labour force.

Migrants in the labour force
In November 1996 there were 9.1 million people in the Australian labour force, of whom around 24% had been born outside Australia. However, Australia's long history of migration meant that most of these overseas-born people had been in Australia for a considerable period of time and had overcome the initial difficulties of settling into Australian life. This review mainly looks at those migrants who arrived as adults (aged 18 years or over) between 1971 and 1996 and who represented about 11% of the labour force in November 1996. These migrants were likely to have received their education outside Australia and had a high probability of entering the labour force soon after arrival in Australia.

Because the labour force experience of migrants varies greatly with their length of residence, this review also makes comparisons between migrants who arrived between 1971 and 1985 and those who arrived more recently, between 1986 and 1996. Recent migrants represented about 6% of the labour force in November 1996.

Success in finding employment was related to the visa category under which migrants arrived in Australia, their proficiency in spoken English and level of skills.

Labour force participation
In November 1996, recent migrants (who arrived between 1986 and 1996) from the main English speaking countries had an unemployment rate of 6%, similar to that of migrants who had arrived earlier (between 1971 and 1985) and lower than that of Australian-born people (8%). The participation rate of recent migrants (75%) was slightly higher than that of migrants who arrived earlier (72%) and higher than that of Australian-born people (67%).

Among migrants from the predominantly non-English speaking countries, recent migrants had a much higher unemployment rate (15%) than migrants who had arrived earlier (9%) and Australian-born people in the labour force (8%). The participation rates of recent migrants (66%) and those who arrived earlier (64%) were both similar to the rate for Australian-born people (67%). However, recent migrants from predominantly non-English speaking countries who could speak English well had a lower rate of unemployment (11%) and a higher participation rate (75%).

Of all migrants arriving after 1970, the highest unemployment rate (21%) and the lowest participation rate (54%) occurred among migrants from the Middle East and North Africa. The lowest unemployment rate (6%) and the highest participation rate (86%) occurred among migrants from Canada and the United States of America.

LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF MIGRANTS WHO ARRIVED AFTER 1970 AGED 18 OR OVER, NOVEMBER 1996

In the labour force

Employed

Full-time
Part-time
Total employed
Unemployed
Not in the labour force
Total
Participation
rate
Unemployment rate
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
%
%

Born in MESC(a)
    Arrived 1971-1985
144.5
47.8
192.3
11.7
80.6
284.6
71.7
5.7
    Arrived 1986-1996
149.9
29.3
179.2
12.0
62.8
254.0
75.3
6.3
Born in other countries
    Arrived 1971-1985
195.7
34.6
230.3
21.5
144.3
396.1
63.6
8.5
    Arrived 1986-1996
234.4
54.9
289.3
50.3
175.7
515.2
65.9
14.8
Total
724.4
166.6
891.0
95.5
463.4
1,449.9
68.0
9.7

(a) Main English-speaking countries, comprising the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, United States of America and New Zealand.

Source: Unpublished data, Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Migrants, Australia, November 1996.


Region of birth
Over the last twenty years there have been some distinct shifts in the regions from which migrants have come. Migrants (aged 18 or over at the time of arrival) in the labour force who arrived between the years 1971 and 1985 were more likely to have come from Europe than those who arrived more recently, between 1986 and 1996. The proportion of migrants in the labour force who came from Europe (mainly from the United Kingdom and Ireland) dropped from 47% between 1971 and 1985 to 29% between 1986 and 1996.

The proportion of migrants from Southeast Asia (mostly from the Philippines and Vietnam) also dropped, from 19% to 17%.

There were corresponding proportional increases in migrants in the labour force from other countries when comparing the periods 1971-1985 and 1986-1996. The largest increases were from Oceania, which increased from 11% to 19% (mainly New Zealand migrants), and Northeast Asia (mainly migrants from China and Hong Kong), which increased from 3% to 11%.


UNEMPLOYMENT RATES AND PARTICIPATION RATES OF MIGRANTS(a) BY BIRTHPLACE REGIONS, NOVEMBER 1996

(a) Who arrived after 1970 and were aged 18 years or over on arrival.


Source: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Migrants, Australia November 1996 (cat. no. 6250.0) and Labour Force Australia, November 1996 (cat. no. 6203.0).

DISTRIBUTION OF BIRTHPLACE REGIONS AND PERIOD OF ARRIVAL OF MIGRANTS(a) WHO WERE IN THE LABOUR FORCE, NOVEMBER 1996

(a) Who arrived after 1970 and were aged 18 years or over on arrival.


Source: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Migrants, Australia November 1996 (cat. no. 6250.0) and Labour Force Australia, November 1996 (cat. no. 6203.0).


Type of employment
Migrants have traditionally been most likely to find employment in the manufacturing industries and in blue-collar occupations, reflecting the post-war boom in manufacturing and construction and the type of skills that immigration policy then favoured.

In November 1996 the distribution of migrants (those who had arrived in Australia aged 18 or over between 1971 and 1996) among industries and occupations shows that their concentration in blue-collar occupations and in the manufacturing industries was greater than that for Australian-born employed people. Northern Americans were the only migrant group to have a lower proportion employed in manufacturing (9%) than Australian-born employed people (12%). Among other birthplace groups the proportions employed in manufacturing ranged up to 31% among migrants from Europe (but excluding those from the United Kingdom and Ireland) and Southeast Asia.

There were some differences between migrants who arrived in Australia between 1971 and 1985 and those who arrived more recently (1986-96). In general, recent migrants were more likely to work in blue-collar occupations and the manufacturing industries than migrants who had arrived earlier.

Migrant jobseekers
The Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns is a longitudinal survey in which the same individuals are interviewed over a number of years. This unique survey can show how successful individuals were at finding and keeping jobs over several years. Jobseekers are defined in the survey as those people who were unemployed, underemployed, or marginally attached (such as discouraged jobseekers) to the labour force in May 1995. Survey results show that Australian-born jobseekers were more likely to have found employment than migrant jobseekers.

In May 1995 almost three quarters of jobseekers were Australian-born and, of these, 73% held a job at some stage between May 1995 and September 1996. Of those jobseekers who were born overseas, 31% were born in the English speaking countries and the remainder were born in other countries. Migrant jobseekers who were born in predominantly non-English speaking countries but did speak English very well had greater success in finding employment at some stage after May 1995 (60% found employment) than those that said they did not speak English well or at all (32% found employment).2

SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS OF EMPLOYED MIGRANTS(a) BY BIRTHPLACE REGION, NOVEMBER 1996

Employed in blue-collar(b) occupations
Employed in manufacturing industries
Birthplace region
%
%

Oceania
42.3
17.9
Europe (inc. former USSR but excluding UK & Eire)
55.1
30.8
UK and Ireland
27.5
17.7
Southern Asia
37.3
23.7
Southeast Asia
44.1
31.0
Northeast Asia
43.2
29.3
South America, Central America and the Caribbean
55.6
21.9
Northern America
11.2
9.0
Africa (excluding North Africa)
25.5
23.4
Middle East and North Africa
48.7
19.3
All migrants(a)
39.8
23.4
All Australian-born
32.0
11.7

(a) Who arrived after 1970 and were aged 18 years or over on arrival.
(b) Comprises tradespersons and related workers; intermediate production and transport workers; and labourers and related workers.

Source: Labour Force Status and Other Characteristics of Migrants, Australia November 1996 (cat. no. 6250.0) and Labour Force, Australia, November 1996 (cat. no. 6203.0).


New migrants
Results from a new longitudinal survey of migrants arriving in Australia3 shows that immigrants who arrived between September 1993 and August 1995 had an unemployment rate of 38% and an overall labour force participation rate of 57% about five months after arriving. The survey followed the family member who was assessed for migration eligibility. About 18 months after arrival, these same migrants had an unemployment rate of 21% and a participation rate of 63%.4

The success with which new migrants find jobs does vary with migration category. This is a predictable outcome given that migration categories select on skills for the skilled and family concessional migrants, whereas family preferential and humanitarian migrants are not tested on skills.

Consequently, new humanitarian migrants had the highest unemployment rate (81%) among migrants who had been resident in Australia for about five months. However, this had reduced to 50% about 18 months after arrival. Among family migrants and skilled independent migrants the unemployment rates generally had halved over the period between the two interviews. For employer-nominated migrants and business-skills migrants the unemployment rate increased fractionally, though the rate in both cases was the lowest overall (3% to 4%).4

Among new migrants who were not currently employed, nearly half stated that their main problem in finding work was difficulty with the English language. A much smaller proportion (12%) considered that there were not enough jobs available. Among new migrants who had found work, 12% stated that English language difficulty had been a problem, while a quarter stated that they had no particular problem finding work.5


NEW MIGRANT(a) UNEMPLOYMENT RATES BY VISA CATEGORY 5 MONTHS AND 18 MONTHS AFTER ARRIVAL

(a) Migrants who arrived between September 1993 and August 1995.

(b) Employer Nomination Scheme.

Source: The Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia, Immigration Update Sept Quarter 1996 (Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs).

Endnotes
1 Bureau of Immigration and Population Research, 1994, The Rationale for Australia's Skilled Immigration Program, AGPS, Canberra.

2 Australia Bureau of Statistics, 1997, Australians' Employment and Unemployment Patterns 1994-1996, cat. no. 6286.0, ABS, Canberra.

3 The Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia, 1993-1995, conducted by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

4 Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, 1996, The Improvement Over Time in Immigrant Unemployment Rates, in Immigration Update, September Quarter, 1996, AGPS, Canberra.

5 Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, 1997, Initial Labour Market Experiences of Immigrants, DIMA, Canberra.



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