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The Sudanese Online Research Association welcomes contributions of essays, papers and projects about Sudan and the Sudanese Diaspora. The following headings link to research papers that are published exclusively through the Sudanese Online Research Association Online Library. If you require further details about the authors please email.

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Occupational mobility of skilled Sudanese refugee entrants in Melbourne, By Annabel Masquefa
Click here to download the full text, printable version.

"Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Development Studies."

The aim of this research is to determine whether skilled Sudanese entering Australia under the humanitarian program have found employment in direct relation to their academic qualifications and professional experience. The study specifically targeted Sudanese professionals who have been living in Melbourne for over two years, who have a good command of English, and who had industry-relevant and tertiary qualifications prior to arrival.
This research is necessary because most studies of the employment experiences of migrants have focussed on people who arrived from Europe and Asia, and who are clearly disadvantaged in the labour market by virtue of their lack of skills. As a result, there has been no research on the employment experiences of relatively skilled migrants from the Horn of Africa.
Through in-depth interviews, the research examines the employment histories and the occupational mobility of 18 Sudanese professionals from the time of their first employment up to the present. Only one respondent, from the business category, was able to resume his former occupation shortly after arrival in Australia. On average four and a half to six years after resettlement, four other respondents managed to secure employment in professional fields, although not in former occupations. While the sample population shows a high rate of employment, all respondents, regardless of their professional background, were initially employed in menial activities where half of them remained six years later. Thus a high level of underemployment exists among skilled Sudanese and upward occupational mobility seems to favor overseas business administrators over lawyers, doctors and social scientists. Contrary to expectations, former financial status, prior work experience in the country of origin, possession of university qualifications, fluency in English and having lived in Australia for more than two years, bore no relationship to the ability to obtain employment in skilled occupations. Instead, factors impeding on occupational mobility include the non-recognition of overseas qualifications by Australian professional bodies, the lack of local experience, racial prejudice and age.
The Movement of Skilled Sudanese Refugees to Australia and their Employment Status
The literature on immigration and settlement in Australia has rarely focused on occupational outcomes for relatively advantaged refugee groups. Rather, the literature has been primarily concerned to explain the experiences of those immigrants that are clearly disadvantaged in the labour market - typically unskilled refugees, people from non English speaking backgrounds (NESB), women, or conversely immigrants recruited under Australia’s skilled immigration program. This study, by contrast, focuses on Sudanese refugee/humanitarian entrants with tertiary qualifications, industry-relevant experience and a pronounced knowledge of English, all attributes that would suggest a successful integration into the Australian labour market.
Most research on refugee migration and resettlement to Australia focuses on European and Asian settlements due to the historical, geographical and economic ties that Australia shares with Europe and Asia. However, there has been a recent influx of humanitarian entrants from the Horn of Africa, especially from Sudan, to the extent that the Sudanese is now the fastest growing ethnic community in Victoria. Outside of their own community, little is known about these Sudanese migrants, and the dearth of data on their occupational experiences has given the impetus for this research.
The aim of this research is to determine whether skilled Sudanese entering Australia under the humanitarian program have found employment in direct relation to their academic qualifications and professional experience. The study specifically targets Sudanese professionals who have been living in Melbourne for over two years. It looks at the job history of 18 Sudanese professionals, with a good command of English, from the time of their first employment up to the present. Ultimately, this research attempts to identify the barriers that prevent an upward mobility in professional practice, and, conversely, the factors that favour a successful economic integration. Since successful immigration and integration often depends on employment experience, the findings will help determine whether the Australian resettlement program has been successful in its effort to recreate a conductive environment for professional workers, and whether people’s skills and diversified experiences have been mobilised to the benefit of the economy.

1.1. The Sudanese war and refugees

1.1.1 The Sudanese war
The civil war in Sudan, which is in area the largest country in Africa, stems from the divisions between an Arab/Muslim majority in the north and African Christian/Animists in the south (Holtzman, 2000). These divisions are grounded in social, political, economic and religious differences, which are products of historical forces that have created tensions and inequalities between the north and south. Formerly colonized by the British, Sudan became independent in 1956. However, at the time of independence, only the state of north Sudan, which represented as much as 90% of all economic investment in the country, had an effective administrative and political structure (Lehrefeld, 2001).
In 1989 Sudan came under the rule of an oppressive military government lead by Lieutenant General al Bashir. It imposed the sharia law (the Islamic law) on both northerners and southerners, but most aggressively on the non-Muslim southerners. This exacerbated their marginal political and economic position, leading to anti-government movements and guerrilla warfare. As a result of the war, southerners have fled into neighbouring countries, where many live in refugee camps, waiting for the chance of migration to Australia or elsewhere (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). Sudan’s civil war has caused a population of around 500, 000 Sudanese people to register as refugees in other countries (UNHCR, 2002). Even more alarming, the on-going war in Sudan has created an estimated 4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), the largest IDP population in the world (Lehrefeld, 2001).
1.1.2 Who is a refugee? Facts and figures
For the purpose of this research, it is important to establish the distinction between a refugee, an asylum seeker and an internally displaced person. The United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees, or referred to as the 1951 Geneva Convention states that a refugee is “a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country (UNHCR, 1951)". As of December 31, 2001, UNHCR estimates that the number of refugees worldwide was 15 million (UNHCR, 2002)
A person becomes a refugee only when their asylum claim has been accepted by either the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or other governmental bodies and agencies. A person waiting for a decision on their claim is called an asylum seeker. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) flee their homes for the same reasons as refugees, but remain within their own country and are thus subject to the laws of that state (UNHCR, 2003). Australia acceded to the Geneva Convention in 1954 and it is also party to the 1967 protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.
The fundamental distinction between a migrant and a refugee, as developed in Kunz’s (1973) kinetic model, is that a refugee is a completely involuntary ‘push’ force migrant, as distinct from voluntary ‘pull’ force migrants who attracted by opportunities such as enhanced employment prospects and/or quality of life in the country of settlement. Contrary to the refugee, the economic migrant leaves a country voluntarily and should he or she elect to return home, they would continue to receive the protection of their government (UNHCR, 2003). Refugees, on the other hand, flee because of the threat of persecution and cannot return safely to their homes in the prevailing circumstances. “It is the reluctance to uproot oneself, and the absence of positive original motivations to settle elsewhere, which characterises all refugee decisions and distinguishes the refugee from the voluntary migrants” (Cohen and Joly cited in Potocky-Tripodi, 2002). As a result, the way the refugee approaches his/her new life is radically different from those who come voluntarily, and this has been reflected in Australia with humanitarian entrants experiencing a more difficult initial settlement period than those who come under any other migrant categories (Iredale et al., 1995).
1.2 Australia and the humanitarian program
Australia’s permanent immigration program has a migration component (non-humanitarian) for skilled and family migrants, and a humanitarian component for refugees and others with humanitarian needs (DIMIA, 2003). The Humanitarian Program has an offshore resettlement program for persons overseas, and an onshore protection program for those already in Australia. The Offshore component of the Australian Humanitarian Program is composed of three categories: a) Refugees- those who have been identified in conjunction with UNHCR offices worldwide; b) the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP)- for people who have suffered discrimination amounting to gross violation of human rights, and who have strong support from an Australian citizen or resident or a community group in Australia, and; c) the Special Assistance category (SAC)-introduced for those individuals who do not meet refugee or SHP criteria but who are from particularly vulnerable situations and have close family or community links in Australia (DIMIA, 2003).
Although, on a per capita basis, Australia has accepted more refugees than any other industrialised country (Iredale and D’Arcy, 1993), there has recently been a reduction in the intake of humanitarian entrants. Between two periods, 1993-95 and 1999-2000, the total migrant intake to Australia fell from around 80,000 to 65,000 and the humanitarian offshore intake has been reduced from 16% to 8% (Richardson and al, 2001). This reduction is a result of the government’s desire to increase the average labour market quality of migrants, favouring skilled vs. unskilled migration movements (Richardson et al, 2001). However, a reduction in the intake of refugee entrants has not applied to sub-Saharan Africans, on the contrary, throughout the last two decades, the number of sub-Saharan refugees entering Australia has been on the rise.
1.3 Rationale for the research

1.3.1 The recent influx of humanitarian entrants from the Horn of Africa

In Australia, much of the media coverage and debates on refugees has been associated with asylum seekers “boat people” and detention centres (Mares, 2001). Less attention has been placed on humanitarian entrants who are now currently living in Melbourne. This is even more the case for African Australians who have constituted less than 10% of total immigration (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002) over the past few years. As in Waxman (2001), available literature on refugee adjustment in the final resettlement country tends to relate to Asian groups, especially the Indochinese (and more specifically the Vietnamese), be it in the United States, Canada or Australia (Viviani, 1984; Lewins and Ly, 1985; Thomas and Balnaves, 1993). As a result, there is an absence of empirical research in Australia, and overseas on the economic adjustment experiences of recently arrived humanitarian entrants from Africa.
Although African Australians constitute only 10% of total immigration, there has been an increase in the number of African humanitarian entrants since the early 1990s (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). In the late 1990s, most African arrivals were from Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). The preponderance of African immigrants from these former British colonies may be accounted for by factors such as common English language, the affinities and links that exist among former British colonies. Sudan has had less humanitarian entrants than Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. As of 2001, Victoria was host to 1,079 Sudanese refugees (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). This is a 199% increase from the 1996 census making it by far the fastest growing ethnic group in the state of Victoria (the second largest group are the Somalis who grew 97% in the same period) (ABS, 2001). The rapid growth of the Sudanese community in Victoria and in other centres is causing the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to classify the Sudanese community as one of a few Australian communities that is 'new and emerging’ (DIMIA, 2002). Relative to other migrant groups, settlement service needs are most important for arrivals from Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002).
1.3.2 Occupational experiences of immigrants

Due to the recent influx of migrants from the Horn of Africa, there is a scarcity of information on the Sudanese in Australia. The little written is to be found in more general discussions of African Australians. Publications on African Australians tend to focus on resettlement experiences and settlement needs and services (Barony, 1991; Okay, 1995; Cox et al., 1999; Udo-Kepi, 1999 and Nubia Kobe and Dimock, 2002). In relation to employment, the literature points to a high and growing level of unemployment for black Africans in Australia (Barony, 1991; Okay, 1995; Cox et al., 1999; Udo-Kepi, 1999 and Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002; DIMIA). Back in the 1980s, Barony’s (1991) research among African Australians in Melbourne identified, out of a sample population of 187, a 25% unemployment rate and a 50% non-participation rate in the labour force. A few years later, Cox et al’s (1999) national survey of 221 African Australians, registered by the Department of Social Security (DSS) as eligible for unemployment benefit, came to similar findings with an unemployment rate of 23% and a non-participation rate of 45%. Nsubuga-Kyobe and Damask’s latest research (2002) among 172 African Australian participants in Victoria, found that a striking 58% of the respondents were unemployed. Most significant of all was that only 23% were employed. So, all these findings point to unemployment as being an important problem for African humanitarian entrants.

Underemployment is also a common finding in all the research on migrants, including African Australians. Well-qualified lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, and academics find it difficult to reach positions in the professional and technical fields (Barony, 1991; Cox et al., 1999; Udo-Kepi, 1999 and Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). Barony’s findings (1991) point to 70% of the 125 African respondents being in possession of some form of trade or other post-school qualification but in spite of such qualifications, few were employed as professional/technical workers and clerical workers. Hawthorne and Burrell (1997) have provided quantitative evidence that with few exceptions, skilled non-English speaking background (NESB) migrants in Australia achieved limited access to employment in their professional fields. Waxman (2001) conducted research on the employment status among recently settled Iraqi, Afghans and Yugoslavian refugees in Sydney and stated that occupation prior to emigration had little effect on labour force status once in Australia. He concluded that there was no significant difference in current employment status between Iraqi, Afghans and Yugoslavian refugees who were blue or white-collar workers in their home countries.

Casual employment is also a form of underemployment for African Australians, where an imposing majority (70%) are found working part-time or not being engaged in the work force (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). According to Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock (2002), African Australians are often engaged in menial or part-time, casual jobs with little possibility of professional advancement. The literature also acknowledges the fact that hidden unemployment is heavily concentrated on migrants from non-English speaking background (NESB) (Wooden, 1993) but this will not be discussed within the scope of this study.

A major limitation of the available literature is that it looks at employment from a single point in time, usually through a ‘snap-shot’ style of survey. The research has not provided much insight into how employment prospects changed and evolved (or not) after initial settlement. To this date, the only survey that has provided a better picture of settlement progress than would be captured from a point in time survey is Dime’s Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia (LSIA) (BIPR, 2002). The DIMIA Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants covers the period from march 1994 until March 2002, and examines key indicators of labour market success among 8316 newly arrived immigrants.

There are two cohorts: LSIA 1 (cohort 1) which contains 5192 migrants who arrived in Australia between September 1993 and August 1995 and LSIA 2 (cohort 2) containing 3124 migrants who arrived in Australia between September 1999 and August 2000. Each cohort comprises different data collection waves. Cohort 1 was interviewed on three separate occasions (6, 18 and 42 months after arrival) and cohort 2, was interviewed 6 and 18 months after arrival. The two cohorts are used to measure settlement progress overtime.

For humanitarian entrants, paralleling the findings from the literature, unemployment rates jumped from 33% in cohort 1 to 43% in cohort 2. Unemployment rates exceed by 4 to 5 times the Australian-wide average of around 9 per cent. Humanitarian entrants had by far the lowest rate of unemployment in all visa categories and in both cohorts. Nevertheless, it was found that overtime, the employment situation of humanitarian entrants improved (Richardson et al, 2001). For cohort 1, after three and half years in Australia, 40 per cent of humanitarian primary applicants and spouses had a job and the unemployment rate (for cohort 2) fell from 75% at the time of arrival in January to 43% in March 2001 (BIPR, 2002). Very few humanitarian entrants are in employment six months after resettlement but overtime there is a move from unemployment, student or home duties into wage and salary employment. Richardson et al (2001) made a concluding remark that although it is true that employment has risen overtime, it is nevertheless from a very low base (Richardson et al, 2001).

In cohort 2, it was found that 21% of the humanitarian respondents held elementary clerical, sales and service, and labourers occupations (or unskilled occupations) in their country of origin. Once in Australia, 53% of humanitarian entrants were employed in those activities (this is a 250% increase) (BIPR, 2002). Results from cohort 2 gauged the responses of more than 3000 recently arrived immigrants regarding whether their highest formal qualifications was being utilised in their current employment: 31% of humanitarian entrants held jobs as managers, administrators and professional positions in their country of origin, but none were able to find a job in that category in Australia (BIPR, 2002). It was found that 50% of employed principal applicants with post school qualifications were occupationally mismatched (Richardson et al, 2001).

1.4 Aim

The aim of the research is to determine whether skilled Sudanese entering Australia under the humanitarian program have found employment in direct relation to their academic qualifications and professional experience. It examines a representative sample of 18 skilled Sudanese humanitarian entrants. The research is cross sectional, and will determine whether, over a period of two years and more, migrants have achieved the same level of professional attainment in Australia as they had in their country of origin. In case of a professional mismatch or an involuntary change in professional orientation, the findings will shed light on the occupational mobility of the 18 respondents. Ultimately, whether in one’s occupational field or in another professional practice, the aim of the survey is to determine whether employment improvements have occurred overtime.

The research also aims to determine the factors, or so called “exclusionary barriers”, that impede occupational mobility. Conversely, in the case of successful labour market experiences, it aims to identify the factors that favour successful integration. So, this thesis intends to begin filling the gap in the academic literature on African Australians by conducting the first ethno-specific research on skilled Sudanese humanitarian entrants and their employment history and mobility after resettlement.

1.5 Thesis structure

This chapter has provided background information on the first black African refugee movement to Australia, particularly from Sudan and the Horn of Africa, and it has reviewed the findings pertaining to employment, underemployment and occupational mobility. It has presented evidence from other studies, which show that African migrants to Australia, and presumably therefore also Sudanese migrants, have considerably difficulty gaining employment on arrival in Australia. It has also discussed evidence which suggests that skilled migrants to Australia have considerable difficulty gaining employment in the professions in which they were engaged prior to emigration. Having established this basic set of problems, and the lack of research on the Sudanese in particular, the following chapter therefore reviews the literature that explains the underlying reasons for this phenomenon of labour market structural disintegration (unemployment, underemployment and a lack of occupational mobility)

Chapter III explains the data collection method used to gather information for this thesis. It also briefly describes the method used to select the sample population, to gain their consent to conduct this research, and the diverse constraints encountered while undertaking fieldwork.

Chapter IV describes and analyses the findings of 18 in depth interviews. It presents results on respondent’s former qualifications, skills and professional experience, and how these attributes have manifested themselves in the overall employment performance and mobility of skilled Sudanese. This chapter relates back to the findings in Chapter I and whether distinct or similar conclusions can be drawn.

Chapter V discusses the findings of the research, and relates these back to the theory in chapter II on the reasons for labour market segregation. It discusses what the respondents themselves thought were the factors impeding occupational mobility, or conversely the factors that favoured successful employment in their field. Finally there is a brief concluding chapter.


Reasons for Labour Market Disintegration

Having established in the previous chapter the problems African Australians face in gaining employment, and employment in their original field of expertise, this chapter reviews the literature that explains this phenomenon of labour market structural disintegration (unemployment, underemployment and a lack of occupational mobility). There are several exclusionary barriers for skilled Sudanese humanitarian entrants to finding work in white-collar occupations. Some barriers originate in global level, transformations in labour demand and supply, which affect structural changes at the local level. The recession in the beginning of the 1990s also had a direct impact on immigrants who joined a pool of already unemployed workers, so worsening their employment and living conditions. There are other factors such as the lack of recognition of overseas qualifications, English proficiency, local experience and time spent in Australia that also work against skilled refugees as they attempt to practice their professions. In addition, there are factors operating at a more interpersonal level, such as the unawareness or non-acceptance of cultural differences and discriminatory practices which also ultimately reduce, to a great extent, the chances of mobility from blue-collar to white-collar occupations.

2.1 Globalisation and structural changes

“The world economy has led to the widespread realization that human resources can be traded for profit like any other resource” (Salt, 1992:1079). The productivity-driven competition-based, intensifying links between the economies of Asia, Europe, America and elsewhere require ever growing input of highly qualified labour (Bohning and Zegers de Beijl, 1995). The search for skills at a global level has created polarized labour movements. In turn, there has been a distinct change from a pyramidal form towards a top end-bottom end dichotomy of highly qualified vs. unskilled labour (or what would be referred to as the funnel shape) (Bohning and Zegers de Beijl, 1995). In Australia this has lead to a labour market characterised as being “increasingly dichotomised, as a primary or core group of secure well-paid workers is surrounded by a secondary or peripheral group of marginalised workers”, and where “the distance between the core and peripheral worker groups is now increasing, leading to greater social polarisation and greater social inequality” (Webber and Weller, 2001:288).

Australia’s immigration has historically had a strong bias against non-Europeans until the introduction of a non-discriminatory policy in 1972, in a time when the quest for economic growth in a global competitive environment was significant. This new policy has led the government to place an emphasis on the intake of skilled migrants rather than more general inflows of migrants. For the last two decades and particularly between 1995 and 2001, this has lead to increasingly higher proportions of migrants from the Independent/Business Skills and Employer Nomination Scheme visa categories and a smaller proportions of entrants from the Humanitarian and Preferential Family /Family Stream categories (Richardson and al, 2001). So, there has been an increasing number of migrants with high levels of qualifications and English. A preference system for foreigners possessing special skills or abilities in demand was also introduced in the United States, Europe and Canada (Bohning and Zegers de Beijl, 1995), creating a global movement usually referred to as the “brain drain/brain gain”.

Although, employers and governments in developed countries have intensified their demand for highly skilled labour, the demand for low-skilled workers also continues, because many nationals in industrialised countries refuse to take the more unappealing jobs (Bohning and Zegers de Beijl, 1995). The decline of manufacturing employment and the growth of the services in Australia has created more non-manual jobs, and more part-time and casual working (Castles and Miller, 1993). The increase in casual employment is evidence of the increasingly precarious nature of work (Campbell and Burgess, 1998 cited in Webber and Waller, 2001), and poorly paid jobs usually take on an ethnic dimension. Patterns of labour market segmentation by ethnic origin which emerged in the 1970s have persisted and have become even more pronounced in the 1990s (Castles and Miller, 1993). This is not a new phenomenon, since its inception in the sixteenth century, the capitalist world economy has ‘naturally’ developed a hierarchy of occupational tasks (Hoogvelt, 2001) but what is relevant in the economic integration of skilled Sudanese is the way these power structures, have in very subtle ways, within the different layers of the job structure and instrumented by laws and policies raised exclusionary barriers to reduce and prevent the entry and ascension of professional practitioners.
2.2 The Recession period
The high unemployment among the African Australian community in the mid 1990s that was mentioned in the previous chapter was in part due to the changing work environment in Victoria. The nation-wide recession in Australia in the early 1990s, was characterized by a reduction in manufacturing jobs and a down-sizing of personnel due to a changing technology, all of which has affected migrants who joined a pool of unemployed labour that was in excess of 7-8% throughout much of the 1990s (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). The same period saw an increase in the number of African Australians entrants and there were growing concerns about migrants competing with Australian-born residents for jobs, housing and other resources (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). The end of the 1990s saw a decline in unemployment, which dropped from 9.7 per cent in 1994 to 6.6 per cent in 2001, and a corresponding increase in employment, by approximately 1.26 million people or 16 per cent (Richardson et al, 2001). However, this growth in employment had little effect on unemployment rates among African communities for whom the problem is acute, particularly in Victoria (Richardson et al, 2001).
2.3 Refugee and circumstantial factors
The refugee is a distinct social type since by definition (s) he had no prior intentions of moving until the onset of a crisis. With this in mind, Iredale and D’Arcy (1992) point to the differences in ‘circumstantial’ factors between refugees and non-refugees immigrants settling in Australia, and these may impinge on labour market success in Australia.
Commonly, the journey of the refugee is characterised by great and enforced mobility. For the Sudanese this has been characterised by multiple relocations within Africa, especially Egypt and Kenya, the Persian Gulf countries and Europe. In addition to the psychological and physical traumas associated prior to and during the flight, many have been in refugee camps for years and have been traumatised by their camp experience (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). As in Robinson (1999: 55), “once he finds asylum, the refugee becomes aware of how much damage he has suffered, the heavy human and material sacrifices circumstances have imposed on him, the disruption in his social and family life, and his loss of roots”. The refugee may suffer deep psychological trauma to the extent that many social psychologists and psychiatrists have described a “typical refugee personality” in which the individual is essentially nostalgic, has difficulty thinking of the future and is extremely anxious (Robinson, 1999). The shock produced by uprooting can cause very intense reactions and produce a ‘fixed’ obsession with the past and a total rejection of the host country, especially among the elders, which then becomes the source of their distress (Deschamps, 1987 cited in Iredale and D’Arcy, 1992).

The psychological and physical disposition of some refugees can in turn affect their propensity to look for work after resettlement. In a study among the Somali in Melbourne, Robinson (1999) found that of those who are in the workforce who are unemployed, a number are not able to consider working at the present time because of reasons that may include emotional reactions or trauma responses to their recent refugee experiences. For example, one respondent says she could not work (or drive) because she gets blank spells and memory lapses. “Nearly all have had their employment disrupted and been without stable work for several years before coming to Australia, and may not have a clear vision of what “starting again” means in a foreign society” (Robinson, 1999:38). For those in the professions, the exile period can result in an atrophy of skills.

Overall, it appears that special characteristics of refugees stemming from their particular circumstances of emigration (such as unpreparedness for departure, experiences of trauma and torture and disruptions to education and working life) that have contributed to their lack of overall labour success (Iredale and D’Arcy, 1992).

2.4 Qualifications and English proficiency

The first two barriers barrier that skilled African Australians encounter when wanting to apply their skills and expertise is the lack of proficiency in English and the non-recognition or devaluation of their qualifications and work experience (Barony, 1991; Okay, 1995; Cox and al., 1999; Udo-Kepi, 1999 and Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). Since all respondents in this study have either undertaken their studies in English, travelled abroad, practiced English in their professions and have been living here over a period of two years, the English barrier is considered ‘irrelevant’ in explaining unemployment and occupational mismatching.
Most of the literature concerning professionally qualified migrants seeking to enter the Australian labour market concentrates on qualifications assessment and recognition. Reviews of the qualifications recognition process, such as the Fry report (1982) and the review which led to the Committee on overseas Professional Qualifications (COPQ) being replaced by the National Office for Overseas Skills Recognition (NOOSR) were aimed primarily at improving and extending existing processes. Studies by Chapman and Iredale (1990) and Iredale and Nivison-Smith (1995) suggest that less than half of non-English speaking (NES) qualifications receive recognition. At the same time Barony’s (1991) research among African settlers found that of all of those with overseas post-school qualifications, only 42 per cent have had their qualifications recognised despite the fact that, “many universities in Anglophone African countries with their established system of external examiners, award qualifications are arguably fully more documented than those granted by some Australian institutions of higher educations (Barony, 1991:39)”. More recently, however, Baker and Robertson (1995) found that over 70% of all newly arrived immigrants holding professional qualifications had them fully recognised or readily accepted.
The proportion of migrants obtaining recognition of qualifications is now believed to have risen dramatically as a result of improvements in the recognition processes. The Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia (LSIA) estimated that some 93% of settlers arriving in Australia in 1993/4 who sought an assessment had their qualifications recognised (Plimer and al, 1997). These findings have been confirmed by the latest LSIA report which estimates that the inability to have qualifications recognised was a problem for only a small percentage of people (Richardson and al, 2001). Drastic improvements in the recognition process has resulted from the development of an extensive and effective system for the recognition of overseas qualifications, a system that is superior to that in most other countries (Cully and Skladzien, 2001).
Although the National Office for Overseas Skills Recognition (NOOSR) has effectively improved its recognition process, the problem of non-recognition of qualifications remains because Australian professional associations in Victoria, have their own separate guidelines for recognising qualifications from overseas institutions (Hawthorne, 1994 and 1997; Cox and al, 1999; Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock 2002). These professional bodies have required many African Australians to up-date their qualifications in Victorian institutions (Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). In some cases refugees may lack formal accreditation in the job that they had before emigration, and this may prevent them from acquiring these types of jobs in Australia (Iredale and D’Arcy, 1992). While recency of arrival and either the non-recognition or non-transferability of overseas-acquired qualifications appears to account for some of refugees’ disadvantaged position compared with other groups, they do not explain all of it.

It has only been recently that the literature on professionally qualified immigrants has gone beyond questions of English language proficiency and qualifications provisions. The literature now recognises that there are also cultural and structural barriers to professional employment.

2.5 Time factor

It is common to find that immigrant unemployment rates are high in the initial period after arrival, but then decline overtime (Richardson et al, 2001). Waxman’s (2001) study of Afghans, Bosnians and Iraqi refugees found that the Afghans, who has resided in Sydney the longest, had the greatest likelihood of being employed, while those with the shortest period of residence, the Bosnians, had the lowest likelihood. However, it was also observed by Wooden (1991) and Williams, et al (1997) that such improvement is less pronounced for refugees. The LSIA concluded that very few humanitarian entrants are in employment six months after arrival, but contrary to the findings of others, it was observed that after a three and half year settlement period the falls in unemployment were dramatic and, “the most spectacular fall in unemployment was in fact among the humanitarian group, who started with extremely high rates and saw them fall by two thirds” (Richardson and al, 2001:10). This is not unexpected since there is generally a relationship between the period of residence and the level of English language competency and, subsequently, employment status (Waxman, 2001).
Based on the issues of length of time and skills acceptance, Burrell and Hawthorne (1997), using census data from 1981 to 1991, provide quantitative evidence that for NESB professionals, the longer the period of stay in Australia, the more likely such persons are to be employed at the professional or managerial level. Flatau, et al (1995) agreed that the longer the period of residence in Australia, the greater is the likelihood of finding employment, however, they argue that the lengthened period of time does not eliminate the problem of ‘mismatch underemployment’ which persists among male NESB immigrants. Baker and Robertson (1995) found that for those in professional occupations prior to arrival who gain employment upon arrival are likely to do so without much occupational downgrading, whereas those who take longer to find employment are likely to suffer some occupational downgrading. And, the longer the immigrant remains unemployed, the less chance that person has of gaining appropriate employment. This is because “skills levels and work practices and habits start to deteriorate and the capacity of credentials to secure appropriate work begins to depreciate (Brooks and Williams, 1995:58)”.
2.6 Local experience and labour market conditions
One of the most frequent problems that humanitarian migrants face is a lack of local experience (Richardson et al, 2001:57). Hawthorne (1994:67) argues that the demand for local experience becomes more intense as the economy continues to change, so that companies become “leaner and meaner, and sharper focused” and the recruitment brief is to find “the needle in the haystack”. New employees are expected to “hit the ground running”, bringing with them all necessary experience, contacts and knowledge of local standards in the professions. Since, African Australians and Sudanese represent the first migration wave from Africa and are more likely to arrive alone without established linkages with people and institutions at their destination (Cox and al, 1999), one can assume their lack of local knowledge, referees and known employers has been a significant impediment to employment. However, the findings from cohort 2 of the LSIA, suggest that local experience is a temporary problem and that many of those who had been looking for work for at least six months were more likely to find a job as they increased their local knowledge (Richardson et al, 2001).
The demand for local references favours those who have Australian employment experience. This explains the important gap between the desire of immigration policy to introduce more skilled workers, and the employer’s preference over people with previous experience in Australia (Hawthorne, 1994). Hawthorne and Burrell (1997) explain that the immediate cause of the problems experienced by recently arrived NESB professionals was the oversupply of professional which, in the context of weak labour demand, sees employers’ preference to employ younger Australian trained graduates. Hawthorne and Burrell (1997:71) add that for “every field qualification listed, this age group of Australian born graduates achieved far higher rates of employment than did recently arrived overseas born graduates in the same age group, and ahead of those in the 26-40 age group, despite the fact that the latter would have more experienced.” This is what Watson (1994), in a study on overseas-born managers in Australia, refers to as “the cloning effect”: “an existing managerial work force seeks to replicate itself, using its own cultural characteristics as the basis for admitting other and this makes things difficult for NESB managers who lack managerial experience in Australia” (Watson, 1994:53).
2.7 Cultural
In a statistical analysis of underemployment, Flatau et al (1996) find that that the greater the socio-economic and cultural distance between Australia and a migrant country of origin, the more difficult it is for the migrant to assimilate into the labour market. Hawthorne (1994) explains that this cultural distance is manifest in the initial job seeking stages in which the forming of an initial impression appears to be a critical factor in considering an applicant from a professionally qualified immigrant. She proceeds, “ the conventions on the style and content of application letters and job resumes are as culturally specific as job interview behaviours. Many employers make up their minds in the first thirty seconds of an interview and negative decisions about NESB applicants are invariably based on appearance, accent, or style of presentation, each of which, may well be irrelevant to an applicant’s professional or technical capacity (Hawthorne, 1994:64) ”. Methodological approaches to interview in Australia can sharply contrast with the reluctance, in other cultures, to respond to ‘personal’ and ‘negative’ questions, viewing them as unimportant or even offensive. In turn, this can be regarded as not just embarrassing, but as impolite and potentially dishonest on the side of Australian employers such that “when the survival of your company and your employees depends on those sales, you’ve got to make a very hard decision, and it almost invariably goes to the conservative safe side, to the disadvantage of the other one” (Hawthorne, 1994:68).

2.8 Discrimination

Racial discrimination in the recruitment process has been extensively and repeatedly cited among African Australians (Barony, 1991; Cox and al., 1999; Udo-Kepi, 1999 and Nsubuga-Kyobe and Dimock, 2002). Cox and al (1999) stated that 66% of the overall sample referred to this as the biggest barrier, which presumably reflected their personal experience as well as their perception of the experiences of others around them. Barony (1991) calls racial discrimination “the most pervasive and intractable of the problems confronting Africans”. Discrimination occurs when migrants are do not receive the same treatment as nationals, in spite of comparable education, qualifications and/or experience (Bohning and Zegers de Beijl, 1995). While it arises in almost all interactions with the wider community, it is more likely to be found in situations in which there is competition and choice (usually in employment, education and assessment of qualifications). Inglis and Philips (1995:7) suggest that:

“It is not so much because of conscious efforts to restrict access to potential competitors, as a failure to recognise the discrimination inherent in what are conceived as universalistic requirements for working in the particular profession…(a question of) the extent to which their required types and skills are universalistic or affected by culture and social institutions which do not readily transfer to Australia”

Bohning and Zegers de Beijl, (1995) believe that discrimination cannot be eliminated through government legislation and enforcement mechanisms-alone, and that there is a need for “measures that reach further and actions on access to jobs, promotion and training, as well as training and education in anti-discrimination behaviour or equal treatment aimed at the “gate keepers” of both the labour market and society at large- are an unequivocal necessity” (Bohning and Zegers de Beijl, 1995:44).

In most of the studies of African Australians respondents identify a subtle form of discrimination which they call ‘hidden discrimination’, or ‘indirect discrimination’, with the problem being how to provide proof that discrimination actually occurred (Barony, 1991). Others see themselves as being very frequently discriminated against, but perhaps not so much on ‘purely’ racial grounds because they are Black, but more on grounds of being an unknown quantity, and therefore unpredictable (Cox and al, 1999). Strong criticisms were made of the media on a number of grounds. In Barony’s research, many Africans complained about the inaccuracy and distortion of the media’s depiction of Africa and black people. The respondents felt that there should be a stress on the positive, with more coverage on the achievement of Africans (Barony, 1991).

However, Wooden (1990 cited in Iredale and D’Arcy, 1992) believes that if there is any persistent disadvantage for refugees in the labour market, it does not result from ethnic discrimination but rather because humanitarian entrants have not been able to sufficiently improve their communication skills and as a result are not as valuable to employers as other workers. Watson (1994:53) adds that exclusionary barriers to employment involve more than just a question of English proficiency; it also involves a “deep understanding of the subtleties of the English language, and of the complex cultural aspects of interpersonal relationships in the workplace”.

2.9 Segmentation and mobility

It has been presented that restrictions on employment and residency on some categories of migrants has effectively channelled them into specific sectors and types of jobs (Castles and Miller, 1993) In their research among 272 Greek, Yugoslav and Vietnamese immigrants working in the manufacturing sector in Melbourne, Campbell et al (1991) found that there were processes which channelled immigrants into unskilled work, and that once in those jobs occupational mobility was very low with a tendency for those workers to remain in such jobs over the course of their occupational career in Australia, regardless of their qualifications and professional skills. As a result, segmented labour markets usually become “ethnic enclaves” and once in unskilled positions, immigrants’ chances to exit these positions and re-establish into ‘mainstream’ society are rare.


There are a variety of factors at both the global and national/local level, which explain the phenomenon of labour market disintegration. Factors such as the demand for unskilled migrants to fill up vacancies in manufacturing jobs, the lack of recognition of overseas qualifications and local experience, racial prejudice, ethnocentrism, and circumstantial factors particular to refugees have raised exclusionary barriers that impede the mobility of migrant groups from blue-collar to white-collar occupations. The literature would therefore suggest that, similarly, these factors operate to prevent the occupational mobility of skilled Sudanese migrants.

The next chapter describes the methods used to collect data relevant to the employment histories and mobility of respondents. Information on occupational mobility presented in chapter 4 was collected by assessing the respondents’ evolution in employment status over time, the position/occupation and the sector of industry they engaged in, the level of responsibility they assumed, the nature of the work (casual, part-time/full-time) and the length of time they remained in such occupations. A timeline, covering both Sudan and Australia was constructed in order to visualize changes in occupations and retrenchment periods over time.




When research relies on fieldwork data, the manner in which the researcher presents the research topic (and in turn himself/herself) and approaches the community is crucial to the outcome of the research project. Thus a careful methodology was set up in order to establish links with the main service providers representing the different Sudanese communities in Melbourne. In turn, a sample of 21 Sudanese was selected and data collected by means of individual recorded interviews and guided by a questionnaire. This chapter details the research methodology and discusses some of the constraints and limitations encountered during fieldwork.

3.1 Locating a sample of skilled refugees

In order to meet this thesis’ aim to determine whether skilled Sudanese entering Australia under the humanitarian program have found employment in direct relation to their academic qualifications and professional experience, it was necessary to locate Sudanese respondents with the following attributes:

· entered Australia under the humanitarian and family reunion programs
· has university qualifications and professional experience prior to arrival in Australia
· has been living in Australia for at least two years
· is fluent in English

There are two areas of high African refugee concentration in Melbourne: the Springvale/Clayton//Dandenong area to the southeast of Melbourne and the inner-western region of Melbourne (Kensington, Flemington, Ascot Vale and Footscray) (Majka, 2001). Once these locations were identified, a contact was made with the main organizations representing the diverse Sudanese communities in Melbourne. The ‘snowball’ sampling technique was used to identify respondents, with key service providers nominating potential respondents who would often, in turn, recommend other humanitarian entrants, usually with similar industry-related qualifications and interests. Three key respondents were initially selected on the basis of their wide acquaintance with members of the target population and, as a consequence, they were able to recommend a range of people to interview beyond their own intimate circle. These three initial key providers acted as “gatekeepers” or “elders” for the respective Northern, Dinka and Nuer Sudanese communities.

In order to establish something like a representative sample, the research aimed to survey people from each of the major Sudanese groups currently living in Melbourne. This attempt was realized with a sample population comprising voices from the Dinka, the Nuer, the Kakwa and the Muslim northerners. Although the researcher was aware of an important ethnic and religious diversity among the Sudanese population, ultimately the sample population, regardless of its ethnic or religious background, would be regarded as one group “the Sudanese”.

3.2 Interviews

The fieldwork was carried out using face to face in depth interviews with 21 skilled Sudanese. The questionnaire was mostly structured in order to obtain quantitative data. However, some open-ended questions were included to provide more descriptive qualitative data. There were two main advantages of using face-to-face interviews as opposed to self-completion questionnaires. First, response rates are much higher with face-to-face interviews than with self-completion questionnaires (Openheim, 1992) and, secondly, since this research is cross sectional, face to face and in depth interviews were important in understanding occupational processes and causal links. With the consent of all participants, all interviews were recorded and provided the researcher with a wide range of qualitative data as well as a “backup” in case some information were forgotten or omitted.

3.3 Questionnaire

The information used in this study was collected through interviews guided by a questionnaire, which had both a structured component and a more open-ended component. On average, each interview took approximately one hour. The questionnaire can be found in Appendix I.

The first part of the questionnaire focuses on personal details and aims to establish what the respondents’ levels of qualification and professional experience were prior to arrival in Australia. An emphasis is placed on transit and mobility, in relation to those experiences, since the transit period is an important component of the refugee experience. The second part of the questionnaire relates to the arrival phase in Australia. A section is devoted to the overseas qualification assessment process and the questionnaire also seeks to establish employment history, from the respondent’s first employment to their current position, in Australia. So, the questionnaire contains a number of questions on the sequence and the nature (part-time, full-time, casual…etc) of jobs held by these workers. Occupational mobility was examined in the survey through questions about employment before coming to Australia, the first job (and the sector of industry) in Australia, climbing the way up to the respondents’ current employment status. In addition, there were also questions about qualifications and skills acquired in Australia. The last part of the questionnaire is qualitative and focuses on the respondents’ perception of their overall employment experience in relation to their qualifications in Australia and assesses what are, in their opinion, the factors preventing them from exercising their formal profession.

3.4 Constraints and limitations

Although the Sudanese community is growing and expanding, it is still a relatively small community. Locating Sudanese respondents with the previously mentioned attributes was not an easy task, especially since the recent influx of African Australians to Australia comprises “less-educated young people whose education has been seriously disrupted over many years, and of women who have received little or no formal education (Dimock and Nsubuga-Kyobe, 2002)”.

Another constraint to this research was that despite the fact that four major groups being represented in the sample, there is an uneven number of respondents from each and every community. For instance, the Muslim northerners comprised 55% of all interviews, followed by the Nuer (33%), the Dinka and the Kakwa (6% each). The research was also unable to establish links with another important community, the Sudanese Copts, known to be well-qualified and experienced professionals. Also, it is very probable that a sample population of 18 cannot be representative of all qualified Sudanese professionals, even if most of those from the northern, Dinka and Nuer communities were interviewed.

Finally, there were apprehensions that Sudanese respondents would not want to participate. The reason being was that when Waxman (2002) conducted research among recent arrivals of refugees in Sydney lat year he found that there was difficulty in gaining access to Africans due, in large part, to an absence of monetary remuneration to the participants. As a result, he chose Afghans as a replacement group. However, this did not prove to be a problem in this research. Although some Sudanese were reluctant to participate, most welcomed the research project and devoted time for the interviews.


Results and Data Analysis


This chapter presents and summarizes the quantitative results of the 18 respondents. The more qualitative data from the interviews will be discussed in chapter 5.

4.1 Population characteristics

4.1.1 The Sample population

Although 21 in depth interview s were conducted, only 18 respondents were found to match the research’s criterion of being Sudanese, having lived in Melbourne for the last two years or more, having a good written and spoken command of English, being university graduates prior to their arrival and having professional experience in their field of endeavors. Initially, the research aimed at targeting only refugee, special humanitarian and family reunion entrants, however out of the 18 respondents, three were from the skilled visa category.

**The full text of this thesis will be available on SORA soon. Urgent requests for the full-text version should be sent by email to the SORA editors**

affiliated with the Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning Program, Australia
associated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Peace Education Program, Kenya & Uganda
sole distributor outside of Africa of the Sudan Mirror Newspaper, Sudan
partnered with the African Studies Association of Australasia and the Pacific (AFSAAP)