Australia is a multi-cultural melting pot, and our ethnic diversity is one of the things I love most about living here. We are a nation of migrants, and as the child of immigrants, I am aware of just how lucky we are in this country. It’s a gift I wouldn’t deny anyone else either – but as an employer I see both the pluses and minuses of immigrants in the workplace.
The issues are not related to the fact that people are immigrants per se, but more so reflect the restrictions that both sides face when employing someone who isn’t an Australian or NZ citizen.
Migrants have been proven to help our economic growth. According to the 2015 Intergenerational Report, around 88 per cent of migrants are aged under 40 and their labour participation rate is 77 per cent – which is higher than our national average. This means that the majority of immigrants looking for employment are young and hard working, plus they have diverse backgrounds that contribute to our country’s economic, political and social strength. These things are of benefit to an employer for the same reasons they are of benefit to the country. A great work ethic cannot be taught, and migrant workers who come armed with a great attitude, a willingness to learn, and qualifications or experience, are an absolute asset to any business. In hospitality in particular, we find that floor staff from Europe consider waiting to be a career, which is seldom the case amongst Australian workers. For this reason, their entire approach to the job is elevated and the impact of this on the customer experience, and the business’ bottom line, cannot be understated. From an employee’s perspective, the wages in Australia are usually far better than they would have been receiving in their home country, so if you find a staff member whose work ethic rewards your business, chances are you will both be benefiting from the employment.
On the flip side, employing an immigrant who is not a permanent resident can be a frustrating and/or expensive exercise. Many businesses in hospitality look to those on student visas or working holidays to support their workforce, which often cannot be sustained by permanent residents alone, but visas limit the time they can spend in your business unless sponsorship is an option. Sponsorship of a great international employee is a wonderful thing if your business is able to facilitate it, but the expense to do so is not small. Due to the prohibitive costs, many businesses will employ immigrants who are on student or working holiday visas, but these can only ever be temporary arrangements. Student visas dramatically restrict the hours able to be worked, and this situation often tends not to benefit either party. If you find a great employee, only being able to offer 20 hours per week in a business like mine that operates close to 20 hours per day, 7 days per week, just doesn’t work. Similarly, 20 hours per week often does not assist the worker to create the career that they want. Working holiday employees may not have the same hourly restrictions, but needing to let an employee go after only 6 months – a condition of the working holiday visa – can be equally as distressing for both parties. Both situations and the associated lack of permanency can breed a lack of commitment and/or care, and in the worst cases can lead to exploitation from either side.
That said, in hospitality, your staff are the lifeblood of your business – and you may just find that having a staff of incredible workers who can only stay for 6 months, or even 20 hours per week, is a better business decision than hiring a full time roster of mediocre permanent employees.