RURAL Councils Victoria chairman Rob Gersch believes an idea to change regional skilled visas to help rural areas needs further investigation.
The federal government announced this week it was considering introducing visa conditions that would bind migrants to regional and rural areas for a certain time after they secured permanent residency in Australia.
Cr Gersch – who is also a Hindmarsh Shire councillor – said the idea had merit, but would only work if there were proven jobs available to sustain migrant populations.
“Migrants do tend to go to the bigger centres, and I think that's more because they have greater peer support there, whether that's through religion or other means,” he said.
“The settlement of migrant families has worked extremely well in Nhill with our Karen community, and there’s a reason that worked – because there were jobs.
“They’ve also had family support, and there’s enough numbers that they can have a community of their own.
“Of course we want them to assimilate into our community and they have, but initially that’s very hard for them to do if they don’t speak English or have support around them.
“The young people are fine because they go to school and become involved in football, netball or other pursuits. But if you have an older couple with a non-English-speaking background, it’s very hard for them unless they’ve got peer support around them.
“You can’t blame people for wanting to go elsewhere if they don’t have that support.”
Cr Gersch said housing and infrastructure considerations were also vital to address in any migration policy discussions.
“We want people here, but there’s got to be the jobs to sustain them,” he said.
“If they can’t get work – and work for their families too – they are not going to stay. It needs more looking into.”
Cr Gersch said migration was one of the topics explored at Rural Councils Victoria’s three-day Rural Summit last week.