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A mindful approach to refugee recruitment

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It’s Refugee Week. A week that celebrates the contributions, creativity, and resilience of people from refugee backgrounds.

There are some 300,000 refugees in the UK, people with the desire, skills and right to work. Yet, accessing the job market can be considerably harder for refugees than for other people.

In fact, refugees are four times more likely to be unemployed than UK-born and other migrant groups.


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Often people have a picture in their mind of who a refugee is.

The reality is that anyone could be a refugee, someone forced to flee their country to protect themselves, of all ages, genders, sexualities, and religious backgrounds, who speak a myriad of languages and who have had, and are having, completely different experiences in their lives.

This means that refugees, like a cross-section of any society, have a variety of qualifications, skills and work experience. From engineers to lawyers and retailers to accountants.

Despite the vast variety of backgrounds and skills, we do see patterns in the refugee community, such as levels of English, low confidence or qualifications that don’t ‘translate’ in the UK.

As a result, people end up in lower skilled jobs than they are capable of.

This is the first step in triggering a cycle: if you are underemployed and forced to work long hours to make ends meet, how do you find the time, energy and funds to access necessary training?

None of the above is insurmountable with the right support in place.

English can be learnt, training can be accessed and people’s confidence can be boosted.

This is the work I do day in and day out: working with refugees to give them the bespoke support they need for their specific challenges.

Employers have a critical role in the successful integration of refugees in our society.

Finding a job – a meaningful job that makes use of your skills – is the difference between successfully rebuilding a new life or not.

The opportunity for organisations is clear, both from the perspective of filling talent gaps and the many proven business benefits of taking a step towards diversity and inclusion.

Indeed, LinkedIn’s Refugee Hiring Survey 2023 showed 80% of hiring managers say that refugees have the right skills or experience; 86% agree that refugees bring valuable perspectives; and 97% whose companies have hired refugees would recommend it to other companies.

The opportunities though can be missed because of the shifting sands of migration policy.

It can be tough to keep track, just this month the rules have changed again.

Unless employers seek out guidance and support, it can feel risky and murky for employers to start trying to understand more about the working rights and how best to support the refugee jobs seekers.

It’s important for employers to understand that there are specific barriers for candidates from the refugee community, in addition to the standard barriers that people applying for jobs face.

The key is to be mindful, responsive and adaptable.

First, recruiters and employers need to know that the recent changes to policy mean that all refugees will start with five years right to remain.

Anyone who had been given temporary refugee status, a two and half year right to remain (a fleeting policy) will now be extended to five years.

This is a decent amount of time for someone to be able to start a role and make a real contribution.

Nearly everyone has their right to remain extended further and then they will apply of indefinite leave to remain.

Being open minded is essential.

Candidates are likely to have gaps in their CVs: if someone’s journey takes a long time or the Home Office takes a long time to issue papers, people could be months or years out of work.

It’s important to understand the gaps rather than dismiss the application. Enforced time out of work can also impact self-esteem and confidence, even with many years work, so considering the candidate in the round is crucial.

There are some very practical considerations that employers can make to the recruitment process.

Reasonable adjustments to the application and interview process can really help. For example, consider if the application process and interviews are accessible if there are language or technology barriers.

Think through the adaptations that can be offered if a candidate doesn’t have digital access, or intermittent broadband, for example.

Beyond ensuring roles are available to and accessible to refugees, organisations can support refugees on a much larger scale.

For example, Barclays LifeSkills, LinkedIn and Microsoft have joined forces with us at Breaking Barriers to tackle the dual issues of the digital skills gap and refugee employment.

The partnership opens-up a raft of training opportunities to upskill in a variety of digital skills – either for digital roles like developers, or where basic digital skills are in needed to do the role.

Similarly, we are working with the NHS to offer ‘on the job training’ for Nursing Associate qualifications and Starbucks to offer training and flexible contracts that give people an income, experience, and enough time to study for future careers.

There are myriad ways to support refugees into work. If employers can be bold, open minded and supportive, the opportunities for refugees and businesses alike are limitless.

Carolyn Burke is national senior programme manager at Breaking Barriers

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