Employers in spotlight over immigration row

Pressure groups fear that the poor handling of asylum-seekers and refugees
means employers are missing out on a pool of talent during a period of severe
skills shortages.

A Personnel Today investigation has revealed that the bureaucracy that companies
become involved in to employ an asylum-seeker and the lack of information on
their skills represents a significant barrier to their employment.

The Refugee Council claims that most employers that have tried to employ
asylum-seekers have encountered difficulties in checking their rights to work.

Alison Fenney, head of policy of the Refugee Council, said, "There are
significant levels of unemployment and underemployment among refugees and
asylum-seekers.

"Estimates of unemployment are as high as 75 to 90 per cent."

Antonia Reid, business development manager of catering recruiter Mayday
Group, said hospitality companies have encountered problems.

She said, "We filled in the necessary paperwork to employ an
asylum-seeker. But two months later we had heard nothing about his eligibility
to work in the UK. We were unable to employ a very employable candidate."

Asylum-seekers are prevented from working for the first six months of their
stay in the UK. Once they have attained refugee status, there is no government
agency specifically coordinating their employment and training needs.

However, the last Home Office research into refugee skills, in 1995, showed
that more than a third held a degree, postgraduate or professional
qualification, and more than 90 per cent spoke two languages.

John Philpott, chief economist of the CIPD, claims the Home Office needs to
build up a skills profile of refugees in the UK. He said, "Work needs to
be done to understand refugee skills and how they sit with the skills shortage."

Gill Sargeant, policy specialist of the Industrial Society, said, "It
is up to the Government, employers and the wider society to change the way we
view the role that refugees can play.

"They don’t come to scrounge but to find a new life and, for most, that
includes working."

By Karen Higginbottom

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