Exploit refugee skills

Government’s consultation on the asylum system closes on Thursday. Personnel
Today is calling for an integration strategy that will benefit employers and
refugees. By Mike Broad

Many working in and around the asylum system have welcomed the Government’s
recent White Paper Secure Borders, Safe Haven for raising serious debate on how
to handle, process and deport asylum-seekers that enter the UK.

It has proposed a new approach to citizenship, a comprehensive system of
induction, accommodation and removal centres, and economic migration measures.

The paper fails, however, to address the pressing issue of how to
effectively integrate asylum-seekers and refugees in the UK, and to get them
into work.

Personnel Today has been campaigning over the past nine months for the
Government to introduce a co-ordinated strategy to get often highly skilled
asylum-seekers and refugees into employment. Many organisations – from
hospitals to blue-chip IT giants – still face skills shortages, despite the
economic downturn.

Furthermore, joint research by Personnel Today and the Refugee Council shows
that 60 per cent of refugees are unemployed for more than a year.

The consultation period on Secure Borders, Safe Haven closes in two days, on
Thursday 21 March. Personnel Today will re-submit its campaign demands and
press the Government to implement an employment strategy that will benefit
employers and refugees.

We want a skills database to be introduced that keeps a record of the skills
and qualifications of asylum-seekers, and enables the Employment Service to
match refugees to appropriate work – a tool that immigration minister Lord
Rooker has promised to introduce (News, 8 January).

We also want the Government to cut the reams of red tape involved in
employing refugees and produce a standard permission-to-work document to make
the recruitment process simpler. Nearly 70 per cent of employers in our
research were scared of breaking the law when employing an asylum-seeker or

The document does confirm the Government’s willingness to address the issues
of integration and employment, despite the absence of detail.

"There is a case for much more effective use and re-allocation of
existing resources to aid integration for those granted asylum. We will be
examining this in the weeks ahead," it states.

A spokesperson for Lord Rooker said that an integration strategy will be
released in May, following the submission of the National Refugee Integration
Forum – a group of charities and agencies that are advising the Government on
the best approach.

The Government has to include Personnel Today’s campaign aims if it is to
make serious progress in utilising the valuable skills of refugees.

The aims of the campaign

– Introduce a standard permission-to-work document for refugees and

– Make a commitment to cut red tape for employers who want to
employ refugees and asylum-seekers

– Develop a strategy for a skills database of all immigrants to
the UK

– Produce concrete plans to coordinate the employment of
refugees and asylum-seekers

Urgent need for a clear
integration plan

The immigration White Paper has set
out a clear framework for managing the increasingly complex task of migration
in the UK. But setting out the policy is the easy part – making it work is more

The Employability Forum wants to see a more systematic approach
towards refugee integration so that when the Home Office makes a positive
decision on an asylum application, there is a clear plan of action. The
National Refugee Integration Forum has made a start but we now want a sense of
urgency over integration.

The Government and voluntary sector should provide a
publication for asylum-seekers spelling out how integration works in practice
for the individual. Voluntary organisations have so far been doing much of the
work in terms of providing advice and guidance, but we need to explain about
schools, healthcare, social services and the world of work in a way that makes

The National Forum must set a deadline to publish a Welcome to
Britain guide.

The proposals in the paper on new documents such as Application
Registration Cards and Entitlement Cards are unclear. Permission to work in the
UK must be unambiguous – employers do not want to have to decode an ID card
masquerading as a form for asylum control. Let’s see what these new cards look
like and check that employers are going to understand them.

In the paper there are also important proposals for teaching
English to speakers of other languages, but we need to provide the resources to
make a difference. Refugees who come to the UK without English language skills
need 1,000 hours of intensive tuition – this investment will generate a return
in a growing economy where competence in English is a vital skill.

Good employers recognise the value of effective induction and
training programmes for newcomers, and so should the Home Office.

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