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Hiring Refugees

They are fleeing war, genocide, and other horror. They come to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Burma (Myanmar), Iraq, Somalia, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and other countries. All must meet strict standards for admission.

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In fiscal year 2016, 84,995 refugees were admitted to the United States, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Other nations have also provided support.

Regardless of country of origin and settlement destination, all refugees have several things in common. One of these is the desire for employment.

Unfortunately, employers are sometimes at a loss as to identify and tap the skills these individuals may possess.

Making a Connection

How to unlock the talent, motivation, and potential of refugees and accelerate their entrance into the workforce is the focus of a new report from the Tent Foundation, an organization seeking to improve the lives and livelihoods of people who have been forcibly displaced around the globe, and Open Political Economy Network (OPEN), a networked international think tank.

The report, “Step Up: How to Get Refugees into Work Quickly,” outlines 16 key recommendations for governments, NGOs, and businesses. It shares well-designed mentorship initiatives, digital job-matching mechanisms, and effective language and training programs, among other best practices.

“We know that, over time, refugees make important economic contributions in the countries where they resettle. This report offers a menu of low-cost, common-sense investments that governments, NGOs, and the private sector can make to accelerate those economic dividends, and ensure that refugees become self-reliant, productive members of society,” says Gideon Maltz, executive director of Tent.

“Getting refugees into work is a top priority – and this report highlights how much countries can learn from what works well elsewhere,” says Philippe Legrain, founder of OPEN and author of the report. “Under the bold leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada does best globally, while Europe is blazing a trail with apps and online platforms that help refugees to learn the local language, obtain training, and find jobs. Businesses and organizations should seize the opportunities of recruiting hard-working and highly motivated refugees.”

Investing in refugees’ economic integration can yield significant financial dividends. Previous research from the Tent Foundation and OPEN finds that for every dollar or euro countries invest in welcoming refugees, their economies receive nearly twice that in economic benefits within five years.

Yet refugees face many challenges when settling in a new country and searching for work. The new report looks at efforts in 22 countries with advanced economies, and practices that can serve as guidelines to expedite economic integration.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • Assess skills and start job and language training as quickly as possible. For refugees approved for resettlement, this could start in refugee camps, along with the cultural orientation classes that are often already provided. In Germany, the government has created an Ankommen (Arrival) app for newly arrived asylum seekers.
  • Tailor language training to workplace needs. Language training is crucial. In the EU, refugees with intermediate language skills are more than twice as likely to be employed as those at the beginner level or below. Pairing on-the-job language and skills training with part-time work, as Denmark does, is particularly effective.
  • Create well-designed refugee mentorship programs. These programs connect refugees with mentors who can broaden their networks, help them find jobs and establish personal goals, and navigate their way as they integrate into a new country. In the UK, employment among mentees in the Time Together program rose from 5 percent at the beginning to nearly 50 percent by its conclusion.
  • Offer apprenticeships and internships that provide valuable training and local work experience. Studies show that apprenticeships, which combine vocational learning with practical job experience, are particularly effective at getting young people into work. In Germany, Wir Zusammen (We Together), a coalition of more than 190 businesses, has provided internships for 3,500 refugees and apprenticeships for an additional 800.
  • Consider local job prospects when selecting domestic locations for resettling refugees. This can significantly improve the ability of refugees to find employment quickly. In Sweden, refugees are placed in localities where jobs match their employment profile based on education level and work experience.
  • Establish refugee recruitment programs among businesses. There is a strong business case for hiring refugees, which can yield a very high return on investment, notably through increased productivity and lower staff turnover. A more diverse workforce also boosts creativity and innovation within a company, while helping to tap markets internationally. Additionally, high-skilled refugees can help fill key roles where there are existing skills gaps.
  •  Make digital job-matching sites and platforms more widely available and accessible. In several European countries, volunteers have set up online platforms that advertise job openings at companies and let refugees build employment profiles to apply easily.