Fact-checking piece on South African refugee migrants (Adam Creighton- The Australian 10/04/2018)

Gaby D'Souza
4 min readApr 21, 2018

Adam Creighton, Economics correspondent for the Australian, recently wrote a piece on immigration in Australia in which he concluded that, because of the relatively poor economic and labour market performance of refugee migrants from certain countries, we should be supportive of allowing South African migrants to settle in Australia under the humanitarian intake as they would be better able to fit in. Creighton quotes a number of statistics in his piece to bring light to this issue but unfortunately many of these are incorrect and potentially misleading.

In the first couple of paragraphs, Creighton claims that we should be letting in more skilled South African and English migrants because they have comparatively low unemployment rates in Australia. By stating this he conflates refugee migrants with skilled migrants, who are specifically selected for their ability to integrate with the labour market in Australia. Skilled migrants have to pass a language test, have to be eligible to work in an occupation that is deemed to be short of their skills and have to pass medical and fitness tests. He does this throughout the piece — conflating refugee migrants with skilled migrants — implying that the same set of metrics through which we gauge the success of “skilled migrants” should apply to refugee migrants. But this is not the purpose of the aptly-named humanitarian intake. Their outcomes should not be compared to those of skilled migrants as they come from vastly different backgrounds and have different imperatives for leaving their home country.

It turns out that migrants from countries like India or South and Central Asia out-earn migrants who were born in England or South Africa. In research I conducted in last year, I found that migrants from several non-English -speaking backgrounds (NESB) earned more than their Australian born counterparts. For example Indian migrants earned an average of $95 a week more than people born in Australia, and a full $254 a week more than Creighton’s preferred migrant group — Southern and Eastern Europeans. The chart below shows weekly earning of migrants using 2011 Census sample file data (numbers are in 2011 dollars). Light blue bars represent migrant groups who earn more than those born in Australia in the local labour market.

Weekly earnings by place of birth in $ 2011, from ABS 2011 Census 1 percent sample file

The article goes on to suggest that if we want migrants who will economically integrate, we should be looking to Southern and Eastern European where, of the 31,000 migrants, not one is unemployed. From this, readers might be given the impression that all 31,000 of these European migrants have jobs, but this is not the case. Only 37.2% of Southern and Eastern European migrants are employed — well below the national average of 62.1%. Most migrants from Southern and Eastern Europe are not in work, but they’re also not actively looking for work, so they don’t count as ‘unemployed’ in the labour force statistics.

The article further claims that the unemployment rates for Afghan, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees ranged between 19 and 22 per cent while their Croatian counterparts (refugee migrant cohorts that arrived over almost two decades ago) have unemployment rates of 4 percent. However, Creighton doesn’t acknowledge here that a significant part of the reason for this is that Croatian migrants have had much more time to adapt to Australian society and have deep support networks stemming migration cohorts that came before them. Comparing a more established group with one that has had much less time to acclimatise is at best unfair, and at worst misleading.

The article also claims that the unemployment rates of Non English Speaking Background (NESB) migrants were 8 per cent and those from English Speaking Background (ESB) countries were 2.1 percent. However, the Characteristics of Recent Migrants to Australia data (available for download here) shows this to be untrue and that despite the language disadvantage assumed by Creighton’s article and others, NESB migrants have an unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent whereas ESB migrants have an unemployment rate of 8.7 per cent. This shows that migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds have lower unemployment rates than ESB migrants! Considering these facts, and following Creighton’s logic to its conclusion, I look forward to the Australian’s editorial calling for opening borders to NESB migrants.

I welcome The Australian’s effort to bring facts to bear on debate on immigration but let’s do so in a way that’s productive, and not misleading to the public.



Gaby D'Souza

Econo nerd. Kitten-obsessed but it's validated by my other occupation - one of the editors-in-chief @econlolcats. Also tweets from @act_yen. Usual disclaimers