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Migrant job skills not as relevant as resilience

December 1, 2013

Catherine Armitage

Packed: Our population is set to exceed 40 million by 2060. Photo: James Davies


The official number crunchers put our population on track to exceed 40 million by 2060, mainly because of migration. To some, this Bureau of Statistics forecast spells trouble, not just because Melbourne looks like getting bigger than Sydney.

The bureau projects that even with our migrant intake roughly steady at existing levels, migration will drive two-thirds of population growth over the next 50 years. So we will continue building our nation with migrants. But how do we ensure they are successful? Does past success guarantee the future?

Dr Kwame McKenzie says no. He is a specialist in transcultural psychiatry whose father migrated to Britain from the Carribbean and who has in turn migrated to Canada. He argues that Canada’s method for choosing immigrants, very similar to Australia’s, is flawed because the needs of the labour market are changing so quickly that selected skills quickly lose relevance. You get Indian-born philosophy PhDs driving cabs and Afghan university lecturers working as childcare assistants. In Canada, 95 per cent of foreign-trained physicians will never again work as doctors, so their immigration is ”meaningless”. And protracted under-employment increases the likelihood of mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and psychosis.

McKenzie, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Toronto, proposes that migrants should be selected for their resilience and emotional intelligence, which are likely to prove better predictors of success. The ability to bounce back after a setback, to solve problems, to make the best of any situation: headhunters routinely test these things, why shouldn’t countries?

The psychiatrist concludes the real issue is not ”whether we have the wrong type of immigrants, but whether we are really committed to supporting them so they can help us move forward”.

It’s a good question for Australia amid the din of the ”stop the boats” rhetoric. Our skilled migration test no longer awards points for particular job categories, but rather requires applicants to nominate a skilled occupation in which they can demonstrate recent experience. As for the mental health of our migrant and refugee communities, a recent report for the National Mental Health Commission found ”large and persisting gaps” in our knowledge.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/migrant-job-skills-not-as-relevant-as-resilience-20131130-2yi5k.html#ixzz2mGwUdd1N

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