Case studies

HR calls for clarity when taking on asylum-seekers

Automotive Precision Components employs 20 refugees at its factory in
Tonbridge, Kent.

The personnel manager of the component manufacturing company, which employs
over 500 staff, wants the Government to get rid of its six-month delay before
allowing refugees and asylum-seekers to work when they enter the country.

Peter Vanson says, "These people have been the salvation of our
company. With less than 1 per cent unemployment around here, there are severe
people shortages. We have found that refugees are invariably literate and
numerate and make excellent workers."

All the refugees that the company employs have found out about vacancies
through asylum-seeker and community networks rather than the employment
service. Vanson believes the Government needs to better co-ordinate the
employment of refugees and set up a skills database.

The personnel and training manager at car parts company Mr Clutch is
concerned about breaking the law when employing refugees.

The Rochester-based company employs one refugee among its 120 staff and has
had problems recruiting refugees in the past. Andrea Young says, "I am
worried about breaking the law. The current system lacks clarity. There are
numerous stamps that refugees can have concerning work but instead of saying
whether they can or cannot work in the UK, it skirts around the issue."

Young believes that a standard permission-to-work document would help her to
fill the company’s skills gaps. "A standard document would really help.
The motor industry is no longer a career of choice, so we are not getting the
quality of applicant that we used to. Refugees would fit perfectly into our

"They are highly skilled in the motor trade because it is seen as a
good career in other parts of the world, such as Eastern Europe and

Jewish Care’s HRdirector Delia Goldring believes employers are in a
Catch-22 situation when they try to employ refugees.
Employers know they
can fill vital roles with able refugee candidates, but they risk breaking the
law due to confusing Home Office paperwork.

Goldring says, "The documentation for refugees and asylum-seekers varies
tremendously and this can be compounded by the lack of a National Insurance
number. The bureaucracy works against employers, and if they accidentally
employ an ineligible refugee, the Inland Revenue picks up on it and they face a
hefty fine."

Jewish Care, which has 1,500 staff, receives several applications a year
from refugees and asylum-seekers, and it also runs an unemployment advisory
service that helps refugees in the Jewish community to find work.

Employers also need to know the value of overseas qualifications, claims
Goldring. "We need some kind of skills database or directory because we
need to know what a refugee’s qualifications will buy in the UK workplace. What
is a degree in Poland equivalent to in the UK? Trying to prove experience and
qualifications can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

Scottish fish processing company Whitelink faced problems when it tried
to employ local refugees.

The Fraserburgh-based company encountered difficulties when it attempted to
secure accommodation for 10 refugees that it wanted to employ to tackle local
skills shortages. Whitelink uses a specialist recruitment agency Fast Labour in

It employs 10 full-time and three part-time Russian refugees through the
agency, but pays 25 per cent more than it would if it employed staff directly.

Valerie Ritchie, HR manager at Whitelink, says, "The refugees are here
to work so the bureaucracy doesn’t make sense. By employing them everyone is
happy, the company, the refugee and the Government, as it does not have to
support them. The refugees are very reliable and add value to the

Ritchie backs Personnel Today’s campaign for a permission-to-work document
and a refugee skills database. He says, "I have given up recruiting
refugees without an agency. To first find them and then recruit them is just
too much hassle."

Travel West Midlands wants to target refugees as part of a bus driver
recruitment campaign.

William Shore, training manager at Travel West Midlands, contacted
Birmingham City Council and the employment service to find out the best way to
advertise jobs to refugees and asylum-seekers, but neither could provide any
help. The bus company employs 3,700 drivers but currently has 70 hard-to-fill

Shore believes the Government needs to provide better guidance on where and
how to recruit refugees. "It has been a frustrating exercise and a real
eye opener on the lack of information held about employable refugees," he

The HR team at Naafi wants to recruit refugees to fill skills shortages
and increase the ethnic diversity of staff.
Naafi is having problems adding
leisure and retail assistants to its 4,500-strong staff base, and ethnic
minorities represent less than 1 per cent of its employees.

Tricia Martin, HR adviser at Naafi – which provides the military with
retail, catering and leisure services – also wants the Government to abolish
the law that restricts the employment of refugees on military bases until they
have been resident in the UK for five years.

She says, "There are no contact names or numbers to tap into to gain
more information. It is a shame considering we are talking about legitimate
refugees who would be much better integrated into society if they were
employed, draw less funds from the state and gain self-respect."

Jurys Kensington Hotel, in London, employs 15 refugees as cleaners and
porters, and its HR and training manager believes they play a crucial role in
the company.

Robert King explains, "The refugees we employ are essential to our business
– they are prepared to work hard and get their hands dirty."

He supports Personnel Today’s calls for a standard permission-to-work
document and a skills database.

King says, "We see a lot of different types of documentation from the
Home Office and the Immigration Service which can make it difficult to work out
whether refugees are eligible to work.

"You need honest employees in a hotel because staff have access to
guests’ property, and we need to be able to prove that the person applying for
the job is who they say they are. A standard document would help employers
question if something isn’t right."

He is also convinced that a skills database would get refugees and
asylum-seekers into work quicker. "If employers could use a database
containing checked information and some idea of the individual competencies of
the refugee, then it would allow them to get into the workplace more

Reporting by Mike Broad, Paul Nelson and Ross Wigham.

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