Cameron Park nurse Jiae Oh, originally from South Korea, is in the minority of migrants who have never lived in one of Australia’s capital cities.
One of the 52 new Australians to receive their Certificate of Citizenship at Lake Macquarie City Council chambers yesterday, Ms Oh has chosen regional Australia as her home.
“I don’t like Sydney or Melbourne. It’s too crowded, and it feels not safe,” Ms Oh said.
“It’s close to Sydney [in Newcastle], only two hours, so I can do whatever I want here.”
Where migrants choose to live has become a focus of national attention this week with the federal government proposing new visa restrictions to “encourage” migrants to settle in regional areas.
When she moved to Australia 11 years ago to study nursing, Ms Oh said she did not plan on staying in Australia let alone in the Hunter.
However, after a positive hospital placement and meeting her husband Sean Jung, also a University of Newcastle student from South Korea, she changed her mind.
Ms Oh and her husband have since had two children, Evan, 6, and Hannah, 4. The pair have always lived in Newcastle, except for a three-year stint on the South Coast.
“We did not plan to live in Australia, but we decided it was a good place to live for us and our kids,” Ms Oh said.
“The climate is good here and the people are nice.”
The federal government has proposed a plan to force some migrants to stay in regional areas for up to five years to ease congestion in Sydney and Melbourne.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she wanted to halve immigration to NSW because infrastructure was struggling to keep up. Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg rejected the idea on Wednesday, saying “we are a very proud migrant nation”.
Figures from the 2016 Census show that levels of immigration in the Hunter sit far below the national level. But the Hunter does not have the lowest immigration levels in the state.
The data shows 3.7 per cent of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie residents, and 2.1 per cent of Upper Hunter residents, arrived from overseas in the past decade.
The figures compare to 4.6 per cent in the Illawarra, 2 per cent in state’s Central West and 1.4 per cent on the Mid North Coast.
The national figure stands at 9.9 per cent.
Robert D Bell, president of Hunter Multicultural Communities Inc, labelled the idea of forcing migrants to live in regional areas as a “thought bubble”.
“They [politicians] don’t think about the implications. They haven’t said they are going to put the dollars in for housing... the whole spectrum from transport, to education, to health,” he said.
Hunter Business Chamber president Bob Hawes said the chamber’s members often spoke about workforce shortages and the lack of practical solutions to ease the problem.
My Korean friends are coming from Sydney to live here because it’s close, there’s beachesJiae Oh
“Skilled migration can provide an immediate boost and address prevailing skill shortages. We need to be doing more, however, to train our young people in the areas experiencing chronic skill shortages,” he said.
Muswellbrook Chamber of Commerce president Mike Kelly said a number of Upper Hunter businesses had benefited from workers on 457 Visas in recent years.
“I think it is fundamentally a good idea providing the people who come here have appropriate skills and are able to fit into the community,” he said.
Like other regional areas, Mr Kelly said many Upper Hunter employers were crying out for skilled workers in fields ranging from general skills to professional services in medicine and engineering.
“There has been a skills shortage in the Upper Hunter in for the past year after a 2-3 year downturn.”
Ms Oh said migrants were already choosing to settle in Newcastle.
“My Korean friends are coming from Sydney to live here because it’s close, there’s beaches,” she said.
“And the housing prices in Sydney and Melbourne are so expensive.”
But she said moving to a small town like Merimbula on the South Coast, where she lived for three years, might pose difficulties for new migrants.
“I lived in a rural area and there’s not many people,” she said.
“Even as a nurse, it’s hard to get a start.
“I prefer to live here with kids, there’s many playgrounds here.”