Despite the Bega Valley being a welcome community for refugees, there is no longer an option for migrants in the area to learn English face-to-face through a government program.
A multicultural group has claimed the closure of the Adult Migrant and English Program (AMEP) could drive those still learning the language away from the region and into metropolitan areas.
“Language is very important for people’s future,” director of South East Multicultural Services John Gunn said.
“Many refugees fled with only what they had in their hands, they’ve escaped wars, so when they get to Australia they have very little.
“One support has been the AMEP.”
The AMEP is a voluntary program available to all eligible permanent visa holders, 18 years of age or over, who do not have a functional level of English language proficiency, as well as some temporary visa holders.
TAFE NSW held the contract to run the program for most of the South East until June last year, when Navitas English was awarded the contract for the Bega region from the Department of Education and Training and subcontracted its services through MAX Solutions.
Over the year from July 2017 to June 2018 there were six clients accessing the AMEP in Bega, four who were participating via distance learning delivered by TAFE.
“The AMEP is a demand-driven program where service providers require reasonable class numbers to be financially viable to operate,” a spokesperson from the Department of Education and Training said.
The department received a request from Navitas English to close the Bega site due to these low client numbers and on June 30, 2018, the site was closed.
Mr Gunn said it was “often claimed” not enough people attended the AMEP program, but TAFE already had a strong relationship with the community so could attract migrants more easily than by moving it to a new organisation.
Information provided by MAX Solutions showed under the previous contract – July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2017 - there were about 20 new and continuing students per year who participated in AMEP in the Bega area, with an average of two clients participating via distance learning each year.
Mr Gunn said the first thing the closure of the Bega site had done was limit the potential of migrants in the region.
A lot of people have the skills, the passion, but they’re limited by language. A lot have degrees, but language is not easy as an adult to pick up.South East Multicultural Services director John Gunn
“A lot of people have the skills, the passion, but they’re limited by language. A lot have degrees, but language is not easy as an adult to pick up,” he said.
“We often find people feel more isolated because of that lack of communication.”
He said the closure of the AMEP in some areas had meant other groups – such as the Social Justice Advocates and Bega Valley Rural Australians for Refugees – had to pick up English instruction themselves.
“We need to continue to make the connections with the new arrivals and continue to give them support otherwise they move to where they can receive support, which is cities,” Mr Gunn said.
When the AMEP was run at TAFE it made it easier for migrants to find work due to the “wrap around services”, Mr Gunn said, such as a careers adviser and work placement programs.
“Employment will save the government a lot of money, it will give people a future and it will be encouraging for their families,” he said.
“If we look at language as a way to participate in the economy then it’s a benefit to all.”
Mr Gunn said migrants “bring an economy with them” as well as boost local services, which was what had happened in such regional towns as Griffith and Wagga Wagga which had large multicultural communities.
While some claimed migrants should not move into regional communities due to a lack of jobs, he said there were jobs, but “not necessarily jobs others want”.
“It’s not competing with the community, it’s helping the community,” he said.
“Bega has been very supportive, it’s a place of welcome. The council is very keen, the community is very keen. But it’s sad if [migrants are] losing the potential to come here.”
A MAX Solutions spokesperson said the AMEP offered distance learning.
They said the distance learning service provider who delivers AMEP nationally was TAFE NSW and could be contacted by calling 1300 362 418 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.