Refugees in employment

What steps can you take to make the most of the skills of asylum-seekers who
have permission to work here? Patrick Wintour of the Employability Forum gives
a guide

Employers are still struggling to fill vacancies in their organisations and
can make much better use of the largely untapped skills and experiences that
refugees in this country can offer.

The Employability Forum was established last year to promote the employment
of refugees and asylum-seekers with permission to work in the UK. The forum is
supported by voluntary and refugee organisations and by the Home Office,
Department for Work & Pensions and by local authorities. We fully support
the Personnel Today campaign on refugees and employment.

This article sets out some of the practical steps which employers can take
to make much more effective use of the skills of refugees and asylum-seekers
who have permission from the Home Office to work in the UK.

The Employability Forum is launching a pilot project later this month aimed
at refugees who have professional qualifications and work experience outside
the UK – nearly a third of refugees have been educated to university level.

The project Pathway aims to prepare job-seekers for the world of work and
will enable 50 individuals to secure appropriate employment. Effective links
with employers will be the key to success – we want to work with a range of
organisations in the business community, local government and the voluntary

Here are five practical steps employers can take:

1. Develop links with voluntary agencies working with refugees

There is a network of voluntary organisations such as the Refugee Council
and Refugees into Jobs, which provide advice and guidance for those who are
looking for training and employment. These organisations welcome links with
employers and can play a valuable role in making connections in the labour

2. Review recruitment policies and practice

Newcomers to the UK must compete in a labour market which is often quite
different from their country of origin. Many candidates have never experienced
a formal job interview before and require considerable training and

Refugees arrive without documentary evidence of previous education and
experience and have to construct a new foundation for their life at work. It is
difficult to get a job without a reference and impossible to secure a reference
when there is nobody here who knows you well enough to write one.

Employers can give support for refugees who need to gain recognition from
professional bodies so that refugees who are accountants, engineers or
architects can use their experience of working elsewhere.

More than 30 per cent of refugees have been educated to university level (or
equivalent) and the accreditation of their prior learning and experience is an
important step on their new journey.

3. Accept Home Office documents on Permission to Work

The Immigration and Nationality Department (IND) of the Home Office is
responsible for assessing asylum-seeker claims and provides the necessary
documents for permission to work.

The IND sets out the decision in a letter to the individual concerned and
those who receive Indefinite Leave to Remain or Exceptional Leave to Remain are
both permitted to work and gain access to other government-sponsored training
programmes (provided they meet the relevant conditions for such schemes as New
Deal, Jobseekers Allowance etc).

In the past, asylum-seekers were generally given permission to work after 6
months if they had not received a decision. There is a shrinking backlog of
those who are still waiting for decisions but who are permitted to work. Under
the new system the Home Office is committed to taking faster decisions and so
the position for new asylum seekers has become more complex.

Under existing legislation employers are required to check that applicants
are legally permitted to work in the UK. Refugees and asylum-seekers who have
been given permission to work can produce documentary evidence from the Home
Office and should be encouraged to do so.

Employability’s Pathway project will develop a portfolio for job-seekers
which will include CVs, references, overseas qualifications validated for use
in the UK, National Insurance numbers and certificates which clarify competency
in the English language.

4. Provide support and training in English

Working in the UK requires a good command of the English language and this
is one of the key areas which many refugees have to address at the outset.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is taught in Further
Education Colleges and through community (adult) education programmes; there is
a wide range of courses leading to different qualifications. The Government is
encouraging employers to support its strategy to develop basic skills in
literacy and numeracy. Recent research by the former Department for Education
and Employment estimated that there are 3 million people living in the UK who
were born in countries where English is not the national language. Of these
more than a million are estimated to lack the English language skills required
to function in society and employment.

Overseas doctors who wish to practise in the UK must pass exams which test
both clinical knowledge and language competence. Other professional bodies and
employers should define equally clearly the standards which are required and
recognise that the training needs of second language speakers differ from those
of the host community. One employer in London who discovered that 80 per cent
of the staff were second language speakers has provided financial support for
English language training outside work.

The Pathway project will introduce standard assessment procedures which will
clarify the gap between the competence of the job-seeker and the level required
for the chosen career. Particular attention will be paid to accent and
pronunciation since many refugees who are "fluent" require additional
support if they are to compete in a professional environment.

5. Work experience

Refugee job-seekers have found that work experience can be an important step
on the road to secure and paid employment. The employer has an opportunity to
assess the practical skills and experience of the individual and the latter
gains first hand experience of the culture of the UK workplace.

The Pathway project will build on the success of existing work experience
programmes and develop links with a range of employers who support the
Employability Forum.

Patrick Wintour is director of the Employability Forum

Further information

Employability Forum and the Pathway programme,
6 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9LE
Tel: 020-7201 9980

Refugee Council Training & Employment Service    
020-7346 6741

Refugees into Jobs
020-8908 4433

Refugee Education & Training Advisory Service
020-7426 5800

Home Office (Employers Information)

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