Regional Opportunities Australia (ROA) is a not-for-profit organisation recently established to connect refugees and migrants with jobs in regional Australia.

Following the Australian Government’s announcement earlier this year introducing a $19 million plan to fast-track visa applications for skilled migrants, ROA’s formation is timely. I talk with Mahir Momand about ROA, and what he is hoping to achieve.

Q. What led you to start Regional Opportunities Australia (ROA)?

I founded ROA with Host International. Our aim is to assist people of migrant and refugee backgrounds move from big cities and find employment and small business opportunities in regional Australia.

78 per cent of migrants and refugees who arrive in Australia settle in big cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. One reason why people settle in big metros is that they think there are employment opportunities. In reality, the percentage of people unemployed in the migrant and refugee communities is higher compared to the rest of the Australian community.

A large number of areas that make up regional Australia are in desperate need of new people to come and settle there because some places are on the brink of disappearing altogether. A surprising fact, however, is that unemployment rates for people born overseas are lower in regional areas compared to metro cities (5.9 per cent vs 6.5 per cent).

Q. What are some of the main functions of the ROA?

Our main goal is to match employers looking for workers in regional Australia with migrants and refugees. We’ll also help prepare migrants and refugees for interviews, creating their resumes and various other business trainings so they are employment and business ready.

One of the main functions we’ll perform is helping to ‘culturally prepare’ regional communities and migrants and refugees on what’s expected of them in lieu of norms and culture. We don’t want to just send people into these communities or parachute them in; we want to make sure both parties are knowledgeable about each other’s cultures and welcoming towards each other.

One way we do this is to consult and speak with local councils, associations and partner organisations to identify ‘right and ripe communities.

The regions we help migrants and refugees move to provide an attractive set of employment and small business opportunities, offer cheaper housing, lower costs of living, engaging and welcoming communities and overall better quality of life.

The migrants and refugees we work with include people with a very diverse skill sets. We have medical doctors, nurses, IT specialists, mechanics, technicians, engineers, farmers, entrepreneurs, hospitality and tourism specialists, construction workers and many more. Our emphasis is on connecting migrants and refugees with long-term job opportunities. ROA will not focus on seasonal jobs like fruit picking. We want migrants and refugees to make these regional towns their homes and stay there permanently.

There are excellent job opportunities in regional Australia. Our job is to make them known and help migrants and refugees get to these opportunities.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

This organisation has a personal connection to my history and me.

When my ancestors, the Afghan cameleers came to Australia in the 1860s, they linked and expanded outback  Australia, created regional economic hubs and communities. Walking in their footsteps, as a new generation Afghan-Australian (this time without a camel), I’m focused on growing the economic potential of regional Australia by connecting the labour force of migrants and refugees with the opportunities in regional Australia.

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