Finding a job right now is extremely difficult. But for many people seeking asylum, the extra barriers to finding employment during a pandemic can be almost insurmountable. 

And without access to government safety nets, such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker, people seeking asylum are relying on a regular income to survive COVID-19.

With the support of the Victorian State Government, the ASRC Employment Program recently facilitated the employment of 105 people seeking asylum with the ASRC. 

These 6-month fixed term roles will help us deliver services during the pandemic and give people meaningful Australian labour market experience.

For newly employed people like Rayyan*, this job opportunity offers more than a means to put food on the table and pay the bills that keep his family safe during the pandemic. “I can get up in front of my children and show them that I’m going to work. That is good for me and it is good for them.”

How seeking asylum impacts on seeking employment

Without a network of friends to help make introductions, a contactable reference to put on a CV, recognised qualifications or fluency in English; many people seeking asylum are denied a chance to prove themselves to potential employers. 

Furthermore, there is widespread confusion among some employers about the work rights status of candidates living in the community on temporary visas. 

For Rayyan*, a person seeking asylum and father of two young children, the last 5 years have been filled with relentless uncertainty. When he received the news that he had been granted work rights as part of his visa, he was ecstatic. 

“I can get up in front of my children and show them that I’m going to work. That is good for me and it is good for them,” said Rayyan.

For Rayyan and many other refugees and people seeking asylum, having paid work not only provides an income to live independently but provides dignity and self-agency. It’s also a chance for him to participate economically and give back to his new community. Rayyan had been searching for work for two years before being referred to the ASRC’s Employment Program. 

The ASRC’s Employment Program supports people seeking asylum to develop the skills, confidence and agency to navigate the changing labour market, secure work, succeed on the job and manage their careers in Australia. 

With support from the ASRC Employment Program, Rayyan found a full-time sales role. Working and providing for his young family, Rayyan had finally found his feet.

“This is the first time since I’ve been in Australia that I felt like I’m not the person seeking asylum, but just a person,” Rayyan said.

COVID-19 and employment for people seeking asylum

The economic and health impacts of COVID-19 are undoubtedly being felt by all Australians. When Rayyan’s work began to do it tough, his employer applied for the Government’s JobKeeper payments.  

“Unfortunately for our clients, because they are not eligible for JobKeeper, they are often the first employees to be let go from a business. They are also not eligible for any other Government safety nets, like JobSeeker,” says Camille of the ASRC’s Employment Program. 

Because Rayyan was not eligible for JobKeeper his employer could not afford to keep him on and Rayyan was let go from his job. 

According to a recent report from the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), unemployment rates among bridging, safe haven enterprise and temporary protection visa holders are projected to rise from approximately 19.3% to 41.8% during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Without an income, people have no way to support themselves and provide their families with the basics like food, healthcare and shelter.

“As an organisation that provides frontline services, we saw how quickly the negative economic effects of COVID-19 took hold,” says Camille.

“Our team generally sees over 100 people presenting to the Employment Program for assistance each quarter, but in the past three months that number has doubled.”

And the need for our foodbank, housing and healthcare services continues to rise, in some cases, by more than 80%. 

Working for Victoria

While requests for assistance from the ASRC’s Employment Program continued to rise, at the same time jobs available to people seeking asylum were being withdrawn. 

Thankfully a new initiative from the Victorian Government, Working for Victoria, was launched to provide employment to people who had lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Due to the proven success of the ASRC’s Employment Program the Victorian Government provided the ASRC with a Working for Victoria grant to help expand our capacity to help the community while also employing people seeking asylum.

Since March, the Working for Victoria initiative has facilitated the employment of over 105 people seeking asylum into new roles within the ASRC on 6-month, fixed-term contracts. 

“Restoring people’s income, particularly for those who had been working and living independently in the community before the pandemic began, is key to relieving their reliance on welfare and providing people with the dignity and means to protect themselves and their families during the COVID-19 crisis.” Kon Karapanogiotidis CEO and Founder of the ASRC

Thanks to this opportunity over 100 people, including Rayyan, have the dignity of work and the security of an income, as well as recent Australian work experience, which will put them in a stronger position to find long-term employment. 

For more on what the Working for Victoria initiative means for people seeking asylum, you can find further details here.

Name changed to protect the identity of people seeking asylum.

Reference: ‘COVID-19 and humanitarian migrants on temporary visas: assessing the public costs’ Commissioned by the Refugee Council of Australia. Read it here.

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