Settling better: Reforming refugee employment and settlement services



Settling Better header - Two men in hard hats on a construction site in Melbourne

Settling Better: Reforming refugee employment and settlement services

Settling Better: Reforming refugee employment and settlement services is a major report from the Centre For Policy Development that charts a new approach to refugee employment and settlement services.

Settling Better incorporates the first public analysis of the Building a New Life in Australia longitudinal research survey data.

It is written by by CPD Research Associate Henry Sherrell and prepared with the support of the Boston Consulting Group.

It was a catalyst for the Resilient People & Places Program, a key part of the Cities & Settlement Initiative, and an activity of the Effective Government Program.

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Settling Better charts a new approach to refugee employment and settlement services.

Why does this matter?

As a nation built on immigration, humanitarian migrants (refugees and others in refugee-like situations) make up only a small proportion of the entrants who settle in Australia. Over time, however, these refugees have made an enormous contribution to the nation. Ensuring their successful integration has been vital to building a prosperous, welcoming and proudly multicultural Australia.

The bipartisan commitment supporting refugee resettlement is the strongest affirmation of Australia’s global citizenship. The Australian Government is determined to ensure that people settling in Australia have the help they need to rebuild their lives and become fully functioning members of the community. There is overwhelming evidence that employment provides the bedrock for successful settlement. The best way to help humanitarian migrants to build flourishing lives is to help them find work.

How effective are our settlement employment services?

But how effective are Australia’s settlement services with respect to employment? Are we drawing on our full potential to ensure the best economic, social and civic contributions of refugees to our society with the employment and settlement services currently in place?

Settling Better, written by Research Associate Henry Sherrell and prepared with the support of the Boston Consulting Group calls for a new approach to refugee employment and settlement services.

This is the first time the Building a New Life in Australia longitudinal research survey data has been analysed publicly.

The genesis of this report was an August 2016 roundtable co-hosted by the Centre for Policy Development and the Centre for Public Impact, a BCG Foundation. The roundtable featured insights from experts and policy makers from Australia, Canada, the United States and Germany on settlement services and labour market integration for refugees. We are grateful to all those who participated, many of whom have since provided feedback on this report.

Settling Better Report Key Findings

The key findings of the Settling Better report are that:

  • The weak link in Australia’s settlement record is getting refugees into jobs soon after they arrive.
  • Getting more refugees into jobs faster would be a triple-win for Australia: it would benefit vulnerable people, boost the budget and improve social cohesion.
  • Analysis of the latest data reveals five primary barriers to newly arrived refugees finding jobs: limited English, a lack of work experience, poor health, a lack of opportunities for women and having only been in Australia for a short amount time.
  • Even a modest improvement in employment outcomes would generate major fiscal benefit for government – reinforced, of course, by the broader benefits to social capital and cohesion and to migrants themselves.
  • Reducing the participation, income and unemployment gap by 25 per cent between just one annual quota of refugees and the average person in the labour market will create $465 million worth of income for refugees and their families and is worth $175 million to the Australian Government’s budget bottom line over the next decade.

We must act now as the economy changes and demand for low skill labour drops. There is much we can learn from promising practices overseas, including in skills recognition, private and community sponsorship and microfinance.

Praise for Settling Better

Settling Better Policy Recommendations

The Settling Better report recommends government:


  1. Providing specialised and intensive case management for humanitarian migrants that integrates initial settlement services, English language programs and employment; and
  2. Renewed investment in existing programs built on a more accurate evidence base.


  1. Enhancing private and community sponsorship within the humanitarian program;
  2. Introducing trial programs for faster recognition of humanitarian migrants’ existin skills; and
  3. Developing microfinance options that could be of particular benefit to women and their families.


  1. Centralising post-arrival humanitarian and settlement policy within the Department of Social Services; and
  2. Formalising government priorities in an updated National Settlement Framework.

Settling Better in the media

Study shows helping new arrivals into employment more quickly would aid Australia’s economy, benefit vulnerable people and improve social cohesion
Australia has had a knack of settling people. In the postwar period, we have successfully settled millions of migrants into the Australian community, including hundreds of thousands of refugees.
There is “no centre of gravity” within government for helping settle newly arrived refugees into their lives in Australia, argues a report released by the Centre for Policy Development.
Changing the way Australia assists refugees into employment could radically alter their job prospects as well as provide major savings to the federal budget, according to a new study.