Skilled migrants in low-paid jobs risk depression

Thursday, 09 August, 2012

Skilled migrants who can’t find jobs that use their education and qualifications are more likely to suffer mental health problems after three and a half years of arriving in Australia, according to a new study led by a researcher from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR).

“It seems many migrants will take any job when they first arrive - often including cleaning, waiting in restaurants, labouring, working in factories or driving taxis - even if they are university-educated or have other skills,” Associate Professor Alison Reid said.

“This is due to the cost of migration and because it takes a while for migrants to get their qualifications recognised. But if people are still in those jobs after a period of time, that’s when mental health problems such as anxiety disorders can affect them.”

The study used a questionnaire which asked questions of migrants after six months, 18 months and three and half years. There was no significant difference in mental health during the first two periods, but if people had been unable to find a job which used their qualifications by three and half years there was a decline in their wellbeing.

“Skilled migrants are selected for immigration based on criteria such as age, language ability, qualifications and work experience because they are expected to fill gaps in the labour force,” Associate Professor Reid said.

“However, this study has shown that there is a large underutilisation of skills among migrant workers to Australia up to three and a half years post migration.

“Since the mid-1990s, Australia’s immigration program has focused on encouraging skilled migration. What is needed now are support programs such as employment training, mentoring and supervision if, after one year of arrival in Australia, they are unsuccessful in obtaining employment in their field.”

The study shows evidence that skilled migrants are more likely than Australian-born workers to work in jobs for which they’re overqualified.

Associate Professor Reid’s study has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

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