The Morrison government is eyeing a Canadian model of community sponsorship of refugees after a review of Australia’s support program.
Guardian Australia understands the government is looking favourably at some elements of the Canadian scheme where private groups or community organisations cover the financial costs and settlement support for humanitarian entrants. Canada has welcomed more than 300,000 refugees since the community sponsorship program has been in place since the 1970s.
The commonwealth coordinator general for migrant services, Alison Larkins, conducted a review of Australia’s current support arrangements and has submitted detailed recommendations to Alex Hawke, the minister for immigration, citizenship, migrant services and multicultural affairs. The review follows a separate examination of Australia’s humanitarian program by the former senior bureaucrat Peter Shergold.
The Shergold review found humanitarian entrants to Australia experienced “greater socioeconomic disadvantage than other migrants, particularly in the labour market”.
The review said 38% of humanitarian arrivals were unemployed after three years of settlement, and it noted many refugees settling in Australia had difficulty getting work commensurate with their skills and qualifications.
In a speech last year, Larkins sung the praises of the Canadian model in a speech canvassing the role of communities in achieving successful migrant settlement. The coordinator general signalled she would be examining the sponsorship scheme closely during her review.
Speaking to an online forum convened by Welcoming Australia, the coordinator general for migrant services said the research from Canada demonstrated that “governments alone can’t make the difference”.
“In Canada, you can directly see the importance of community in creating economic participation for refugees through their community sponsorship model,” Larkins said.
“Seventy per cent of privately sponsored refugees in Canada declared employment earnings within their first year of arrival compared to 40% of government assisted refugees.”
Larkins said the Canadian approach appeared to deliver long-lasting social and economic benefits because sponsored refugees obtained better and faster employment outcomes than their counterparts settled through traditional government-assisted pathways.
Refugee advocates have lobbied for the introduction of a Canadian-style community sponsorship program to expand Australia’s humanitarian intake, prioritising refugees for resettlement in the country according to their need, rather than employability.
The Shergold review recommended the government introduce, in addition to the current humanitarian program, three complementary permanent visa pathways for refugees “based on a shared cost model”.
That review proposed a place-based community sponsored visa “which harnesses the collective strength of whole communities partnering with their local governments, service providers and community organisations”.
It also recommended an employer-sponsored visa “offering immediate employment opportunities to suitably skilled refugees” and a university-sponsored visa “offering post-graduate or postdoctoral places to academically qualified refugees”.
The government said at the time of the Shergold review it would assess the current community support program, and also examine additional ways to involve local community and businesses in the successful settlement of refugees and humanitarian entrants across Australia.
The community support program was introduced by the Coalition in 2017 to allow businesses and community groups to sponsor humanitarian entrants for local employment opportunities. However, refugee advocates say the scheme does not encourage broader community engagement and the 1,000 visas available come at the expense of places for government-funded resettlement.
Hawke said in a statement provided to Guardian Australia he was a “strong supporter of the community support program”.
“I look forward to ensuring the program becomes a genuine, successful partnership between community, business and the government, to provide beneficial outcomes to our refugee and humanitarian arrivals in Australia,” the minister said.
Hawke said he intended to consider the report of the coordinator general in detail “and consider possible changes to our program which could strengthen our approach”.