It is true that newly arrived refugees have higher unemployment rates than the community average. This is not unexpected. Amongst the refugee arrivals are people who have been tortured and deeply traumatised. This can interfere with employment. There are also a significant number of entrants whose qualifications are not recognised in Australia and they need time to make adjustments. There is also the issue of learning English. Refugees are entitled to 510 hours of free English language instruction which must be taken in the first 2 years – and it is beneficial that the entrants do this as they are unlikely to do this later.
The fact that refugees “come from behind” in the employment stakes highlights the need for specifically targeted intervention programs that recognise issues such as their trauma, their unrecognised qualifications and their lack of English. Targeted programs that do this have shown that they are very successful at placing refugees in the workforce. If we are to bring refugees to Australia (and it is Australia’s decision that we do so) it is important that we recognise their specific needs and address these. If we do this, we will reap the benefits. Most refugees want to work, both to restore their damaged sense of self esteem and to repay what they see as their debt of gratitude to Australia for providing them with protection.
Whether “refugees take our jobs” is the sort of question that has no easy answer. Refugees do compete for jobs but they are also consumers. Because they arrive with nothing they have to purchase household goods, clothing etc, all of which provides jobs for the people who make and sell these commodities.