A gender issue? Educated, recent (permanent) migrants in the labour market

We know some migrants tend to struggle in new labour markets, regardless of their previous experience or qualifications. This is because they don’t have the advantages of natives. But over time, and certainly by the second generation, migrants mostly become just like everyone else. But in the meantime, governments and employers need to make sure structural issues don’t impede first generation migrants and their settlement.

In Australia, due to a skilled migration framework, many new migrants have a set of skills and/or experience which puts them in a good position to perform well in the labour market. However a key part of Australian policy is to have the option of full inclusion of family members (spouses and children) on arrival. These new migrants have full work rights in the labour market.

Data from the last Census (and a DIBP database) shows a specific issue: educated, recently arrived migrant women struggling in the labour market.

Table: The difference between post-2000 migrant men and women (who hold permanent visas) when compared to native Australian men and women for key labour market indicators;

Postgraduate Degree Graduate Diploma and Graduate Certificate Bachelor Degree Advanced Diploma and Diploma Certificate
Full-time/Pop 9.6% 7.8% 7.1% 8.2% 14.0%
Part-time/Pop 2.5% 3.5% 4.5% 3.3% 1.5%
Employment/Pop 12.0% 11.2% 11.6% 11.6% 15.5%
Unemployment rate -3.1% -2.5% -3.2% -2.6% -3.6%
Participation rate 10.3% 9.1% 10.3% 10.9% 14.1%

(Source: Census 2011, ACMID 2011)

(Note: these permanent migrants have generally arrived in Australia since 2000 so these figures reflects current policy settings as opposed to those from the 1970s).

The unemployment rate for Bachelor Degree holders in Australia was 3.3% for men and 3.3% for women for Census 2011. For recently arrived (permanent) migrants, it was 4.9% for men and 8.1% for women (ACMID 2011).

After comparing migrant men and Australian men and migrant women with Australian women, the comparative unemployment gap between migrant men and women is -3.2% [(4.9-3.3) – (8.1-3.3)].

The table shows large advantages for educated migrant men when compared to educated migrant women. Men have comparatively better rates of full-time employment, higher participation rates and lower unemployment rates. These are all key indicators for economic prosperity and long-term settlement into Australian society.

These differences arise as migrant women have relatively similar outcomes as native Australian women (with the exception of unemployment) but migrant men have higher outcomes than native Australian men.

There are some basic explanations of this. About 65-70% of “primary” migrants are men. This means they are being selected based on their human capital and demographic characteristics. Some will already have a job in Australia while others will already have qualifications approved for work in Australia. “Secondary” migrants (spouses and children) are majority female and do not have these benefits.

However the extent of these labour market differences is surprising and important. A 10% participation rate difference in relation to Bachelor Degrees shows there are serious gains to be made by better integrating recently arrived migrant women into the labour market. These people are predominantly young, highly educated and, with an unemployment rate of over 8%, looking for work.

They won’t look forever and we know the first 5 years for a first generation migrant play a critical role for their economic and social settlement. Better figuring out how to assist new migrant women who are not the primary visa holder into successful labour market outcomes will provide substantial long-term gains.

(Note: The dataset used to analyse these outcomes only focuses on migrants who hold permanent residency visas and thus excludes International Students, 457 visa holders, Working Holiday Makers and New Zealand citizens).

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