Regions can benefit from untapped skilled refugee pool

Management consultant Fadi Chalouhy is the first stateless person in the world to get a skilled migrant visa and since landing in Australia five years ago he has been thriving.

Born at the end of the civil war to a Syrian father who was a soldier stationed in Lebanon and a Lebanese mother, he grew up an outsider in his own country because women are not allowed to register newborn babies.

ā€œI had no documentation at all, not even a last name, so I didnā€™t exist in any legal records, couldnā€™t legally work or get an education ā€¦ I was basically an outcast,ā€ he told AAP.

But the 33-year-old did not let these obstacles stop him from graduating with a masterā€™s degree in finance and speaking three languages fluently.

Eventually with the advocacy of refugee labour mobility group Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) he landed a gig with management giant Accenture in Sydney.

ā€œI still feel extremely lucky, because it was a team effort ā€¦ TBB believed in me and stuck by me. Iā€™m not delirious about how complicated and difficult this was.ā€

The group has 100,000 refugees and displaced people on its books worldwide covering everything from doctors and nurses to butchers and plumbers.

The group on Tuesday launched a new project in the NSW Riverina town of Wagga Wagga to help address regional Australiaā€™s chronic skill shortages and ensure skilled refugees find suitable jobs.

Jemma Bailey, co-director of the organisation in Australia and New Zealand, said the research would draw on the experience of its innovative program that opens skilled migration pathways to refugees and displaced people such as Mr Chalouhy.

ā€œThere is an enormous depth of talent and skills within refugee communities that could bring vitality to regional communities and help to fill skills gaps faced by employers,ā€ Ms Bailey said.

The four-year, government-funded nationwide initiative will put forward the design of an evidence-based, scalable, employer-sponsored displaced talent migration program that fits the needs of both regional Australian communities and refugees ready to contribute from a safe new home.

It is partnering up with the Regional Institute of Australia, the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales.

ā€œOur ground-breaking research will assess how the needs of employers and refugees can align, to scale a system that delivers social and economic benefits for Australia,ā€ said lead researcher Claire Higgins from UNSWā€™s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

Mr Chalouhy, who has passed his Australian citizenship test and is expecting a baby in the coming months, says looking at refugees as immediate contributors to the country in public policy and the private sector would be a win-win for Australiaā€™s growth.

ā€œEmployers have the chance to get hold of people like myself who are hungry to prove themselves, who are hungry to hit the ground running and start contributing and giving back to this beautiful country that opened its arms to us,ā€ he said.

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Farid Farid
(Australian Associated Press)

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