If re-elected, the Coalition is promising new incentives for migrants and international students to live and work in regional Australia.
Armidale in northern NSW prides itself on being one of Australia’s most multicultural cities.
City councillor and Foundation for Regional Development CEO Peter Bailey says the town is a melting pot of more than 70 nationalities.
“We have about 75 different languages spoken here, we’ve had a mosque here since about 1950,” Mr Bailey said.
The University of New England is at Armidale’s multicultural heart and has about 1000 international students at any given time.
“I think to discover the real Australia you have to go regional and Armidale is one of the best places you can explore the real Australia,” said Saluza Chaudhary, an international student from Nepal.
Many international students are drawn to the region by the promise of a more peaceful lifestyle.
“I thought if I studied in big cities maybe I’d go shopping every day and ignore study, so I think this is quite a good place to study,” said Chinese nursing student Aimee Li.
Sri Lankan Zoology academic Nirosha Ranawaka moved to Armidale with her family to complete further research. The only thing she claims to miss is a place to practise her religion.
“The main thing that lacks for me is we don’t have a Buddhist temple here, and my girls do traditional dancing, but we don’t have classes that they can go to,” she said.
Working in regional Australia
After growing up in India and studying in London, it’s the reduced cost of living that attracted aged care worker Jaison Verghese to the country rather than a major city.
“I lived in Brisbane for almost three months, and then two years in Armidale. I never want to go back to Brisbane, I want to get settled in Armidale because the expenses are comparatively less,” he said.
His colleague Sangita Kharel from Nepal says one downside of living in regional Australia is a lack of employment options for new migrants.
“It’s difficult to find a job in Armidale,” she said.
“If someone gets a job it’s really easy to settle here, but if we don’t get a job it’s hard to stay.”
But local employers say they rely on migrants to fill their workforce.
“Probably 24-25 per cent of our total workforce is made up of migrant, visiting employees,” said Autumn Lodge Aged Care CEO Greg Clarke.
“We have an open employment policy and are quite accepting of internationals.”
A ‘tree change’
As part of its pre-election budget, the Coalition has allocated more than $60 million for what it calls ‘social cohesion measures’, including local sport, language programs and community hubs, to help migrants become integrated into their community.
Aged care worker Mr Verghese says those sorts of programs would help ease the transition for new migrants.
“If we had a sports club or something where we could go after work to entertain us or something, that would be a great thing, because at the moment we don’t have anything like that,” he said.
The Coalition is also promising incentives for new migrants to study and work in regional communities through scholarships, new visas and pathways to permanent residency.
Incumbent member for New England Barnaby Joyce says community towns are particularly welcoming to new members.
“Although people sometimes read people in regional areas as having an Akubra and elastic sided boots we also have a great sense of compassion, and we welcome them into our areas and make sure we do everything that we can to support them,” Mr Joyce said.
Nepalese student Saluza Chaudhary agrees.
She says the people she passes on her morning walks make life in Armidale a unique experience.
“Everybody with their little dogs on a morning walk say ‘hello, good day’ and it makes me really feel like it’s a good day, it’s really a good day.”
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