UK Government, Partners Propose Steps to Accelerate Refugee Employment

Posted: 
05/03/19
Themes: 
Labour Migration

Companies can take simple steps to employ more refugees and enable them to better integrate in the UK and contribute to economy 

London – Refugees are underrepresented in the UK workforce and a great opportunity for them to contribute to growth and better integrate in the country is being missed, according to new guidelines released today by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Business in the Community (BITC) and UK Government. 

Tapping Potential: Guidelines to Help UK Businesses Employ Refugees sets out simple steps that companies can take to enable refugees to more seamlessly enter the workforce and build their skills, benefiting companies and the national economy.  

“More inclusive communities and workforces frequently report increased socioeconomic benefits,” said Dipti Pardeshi, IOM Chief of Mission in the UK.  “It’s not only about refugees learning about life here in Britain. To have inclusive societies and workforces, employers can also make strides to better understand refugees and identify beneficial employment opportunities, both for companies and refugees themselves.”   

Refugees want to become self-supporting and contribute to their new communities. They are, however, often hampered by poor understanding of language and business practices, non-recognition of their qualifications, and sometimes the impact of their experiences before reaching safety in the UK. There are measures that can be taken to support refugees into employment. These include: adapting recruitment and interview processes to put refugees at ease; recognizing experience and qualifications from abroad; offering integrated English language workplace training; ‘buddying’ and training in workplace culture; ensuring equal progression opportunities for part-time and flexible workers; and creating apprenticeships, traineeships or voluntary schemes to allow refugees to add skills and qualifications, or adapt their experience to new sectors.  

“There is huge capacity for refugees to contribute to the UK economy, either by better leveraging the skills they already have or helping them add new skills,” said Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, UNHCR’s UK Representative. “There really is untapped potential here that could be a boon for the local economy, and at the same time a powerful vehicle for better integration.”  

UNHCR estimates there are 120,000 refugees in the UK. Refugees have the right to work here, and doing so helps them build self-reliance and contribute to the economy. They represent a range of nationalities and backgrounds that could diversify business culture and attract new talent. Yet they are struggling to enter and progress in the labour market. According to a recent study, the UK unemployment rate of people who originally came to the UK as refugees is 18 per cent, three times that of the UK-born population. Meanwhile, UK employers are struggling to fill roles, particularly entry-level jobs. Yet many refugees are also ready to take on skilled roles; almost half held qualifications before coming to the UK, and many have previous experience as professionals. 

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said: “The UK is committed to supporting refugees as they rebuild their lives here, including with opportunities in the workplace. Employing refugees can bring great benefits to businesses, individuals and communities. These practical guidelines highlight the crucial role for the private sector, in partnership with Government and others, in helping refugees across the country find work.” 

Minister of State for Employment Alok Sharma added: “Employers are missing out on a pool of untapped talent by potentially ruling out opening work opportunities to those who have been granted refugee status in the UK. Part of creating an inclusive society is ensuring everyone has equal access to work, which is why the Government is committed to supporting disadvantaged groups into employment. As the UK’s workforce continues to diversify, more businesses are recognizing the value it brings and these guidelines will help fuel our record employment.” 

Companies report that employing refugees has a positive impact on their own workforces, including better cultural awareness and diversity, reduction of unconscious bias and the addition of new skills and thinking. This comes as more citizens are looking to businesses to act as forces for positive change in the community. 

Nicola Inge, BITC’s Employment Campaign Director, said: “Responsible businesses are already offering refugee-friendly employment through preparing refugees for the workplace, removing barriers in recruitment and providing an inclusive environment to employees. These new guidelines will help even more employers to make practical changes and discover the benefits of employing refugees – whether it’s meeting talent shortages, improving employee engagement or increasing diversity.” 

The release provides case-studies from employers that have initiated programmes to clear the path for refugees into employment. Waitrose & Partners, the retailer, is offering work placements to resettled Syrian refugees in partnership with BITC’s Ready for Work programme. It gives participants training to prepare for the workplace, followed by a two-week work placement and post-placement support. Grant Thornton, the professional services firm, is working with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to explore how they can support individuals with accountancy qualifications not currently recognized in the UK. The furniture group IKEA has funded 122 refugees to receive employability support from Breaking Barriers; so far 30 refugees have gained employment at stores across London. 

John Pettigrew, National Grid CEO, said: “We recognize the added value that refugees bring to our company through their wealth of expertise and skills, which ensure we have the best minds in the world to meet the needs of our customers and bill payers. Integrating more refugees into the UK workforce is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense. Increasing refugee employment means the UK not only gains the additional economic benefits of their work but improved community cohesion too.”   

The partners who drew up the Guidelines are working with the Refugee Employment Network, a recently established umbrella group of organizations supporting refugees into work. 

About the Guidelines 

The Guidelines were drawn up by IOM, UNHCR, BITC, the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). They were developed in late 2018 and 2019. As well as offering tips to foster employment and prepare companies to hire refugees, they provide guidance to employers on the rules and regulations covering employing refugees, and their right to work. The release provides links to private partnerships and NGOs working in the area as well as an annex on immigration status and work entitlements. It also references a 10-point Action Plan from UNHCR and the OECD from regional dialogues with employers to inspire policy action and increase coordination among employers, governments, civil society actors and refugees to help society make the most of refugees’ skills and experience. The document will be distributed to employers across the UK and made available on the websites of the organizers. The Refugee Employment Network was established in 2018 and has a membership of over 80 refugee integration support organizations across the UK. Their membership supports refugees in the UK to be able to access appropriate, fulfilling, paid employment or self-employment. They also work to set best practice guidelines and offer support to organizations to attain these standards. UNHCR is hosting a launch event in Canary Wharf London on May 2, 2019. Media interested in attending should contact saltmars@unhcr.org

For more information please contact:  
IOM:  Abby Dwommoh, Email: adwommoh@iom.int, Tel: 020 7811 6060 
UNHCR: Matthew Saltmarsh, Email: saltmars@unhcr.org, Tel: 07880 230 985 
BITC: Cathy Beveridge, Email: Cathy.Beveridge@bitc.org.uk, Tel: 020 7566 6634 

  • New Guidelines sets out simple steps that companies in UK can take to enable refugees to more seamlessly enter the workforce. Photo: IOM.