- In 151 regional LGAs across the country, the numbers of overseas-born residents are increasing, while the number of Australian-born residents is decreasing. The vast majority (113) of these 151 LGAs are rural.
- Population loss means there are still labour shortages in many rural areas. More needs to be done to enable rural communities to attract labour that cannot be sourced locally.
- Australia’s current immigration, employment and settlement services systems are relatively siloed, imposing many barriers to rural settlement even though there are mutual benefits to be had for migrants and rural communities alike (including lower rates of unemployment).
- There is currently no systematic way for migrant workers to link up with rural employers, nor is there a systematic policy or integrated support mechanism to facilitate secondary migration away from metropolitan cities.
- Information and perception problems about the contribution that migrants make to economic and social life mask the opportunities and mutual benefits offered by rural settlement.
- Locally-led migration strategies have demonstrated their capacity to effectively overcome the barriers which are currently constraining the movement of migrants to meet permanent workforce shortages in rural areas. Support for more locally-led efforts across rural Australia is key to future population and economic growth in small towns.
The scaling up of locally-led migration strategies that are flexible, fit for place, and better equipped to meet local labour needs should be a priority in future immigration, settlement and regional development policies. The aim of this policy should be to better support and enable the development of locally-led migration initiatives in every rural community experiencing workforce shortages.
A new national policy facilitating the establishment of a network of priority rural migration
areas could enable many rural communities to meet local labour market needs and provide support for local growth and community renewal. The policy approach is outlined below.
1. Support the establishment of more locally-led migration and settlement initiatives
a) Providing resources for locally-led needs assessments to confirm workforce requirements and broader community support for rural migration and settlement programs.
b) Providing resources for communities to build local capacity to provide initial and ongoing support to new arrivals.
c) Establishing a ‘matchmaking’ system that fosters direct links between rural employers and migrant workers.
d) Creating and distributing information resources with accurate information on the economic contribution of migrant workers, as well as tips on how rural communities can navigate their own settlement journey.
The main goal of Part 1 of this policy approach is that a group of motivated rural communities achieve status as priority settlement areas (demonstrating workforce need, housing availability, social integration capacity, and local service capability).
2. Facilitate migration to, and settlement in, priority rural areas
a) Capturing the shortage of labour in rural areas across the country,including the distribution of temporary workers, to enable Australia’s immigration policy to better meet rural labour needs (both skilled and unskilled).
b) Establishing a systematic and integrated approach for facilitating rural settlement, offering incentives for migrants to move to rural locations and incentives to rural communities to gain status as priority areas for settlement.
c) Ensuring greater flexibility in settlement and employment services so that rural areas are not adversely impacted by assistance eligibility criteria.
The main goals from Part 2 of this policy approach are that:
- ‘First mover’ settlement occurs shortly after priority area status is achieved.
- Over three to five years, an additional 2,000-3,000 migrants per year are moving to priority rural areas to take up employment and long-term residence.
- Migrants stay in rural communities and employment for at least five years.
These policy changes can be achieved at low additional cost to governments. Part 1 should leverage local and philanthropic investment as the foundation for locally-led migration strategies. Part 2 involves making strategic policy changes to existing policies to facilitate the movement of migrants to priority rural areas.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at The missing workers: locally-led migration strategies to better meet rural labour needs