Hiring refugees: what do businesses need to know, and what does HR need to do?

Following news that big-name firms are employing more refugees, People Management explores what should be put in place to facilitate a recruitment drive

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Big-name employers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Hilton Hotels have pledged to hire thousands of refugees across Europe, according to BBC reporting

As the global number of people “forcibly displaced” from their countries – namely Ukraine, Syria, Sudan and Afghanistan – is currently at a record 110 million, the BBC says companies are increasingly promising to offer work or career support. 

Working with charity Tent Partnership for Refugees, the firms have committed to recruiting 13,680 refugees over the next three years. Recruitment agencies including Adecco will help 150,000 find work, while the likes of Accenture and Indeed will train more than 86,000, the charity has confirmed.  

This follows People Management reports of UK-specific pledges to Ukrainian refugees last year, with a government-led package ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme, and a coalition of UK businesses – including Marks & Spencer, Lush, PwC and Robert Walters – which offered up to 10,000 jobs. 

For those organisations looking to venture down the same route, the CIPD Trust recommends employers connect with third sector refugee employment support charities, such as The Launchpad Collective and RefuAid, which offer “training, advice, skills sharing and networking opportunities”. 

The CIPD Trust says these organisations make a “significant impact in building confidence for people who have been displaced and looking for work”.  

So what do HR and employers, especially those without the resources of Amazon et al, need to consider if they want to hire refugees and support them? 

Legal considerations 

Businesses hoping to engage in this would need to consider legal implications from an immigration compliance perspective before recruiting those individuals, says Karendeep Kaur, legal director at Migrate UK.

She urges employers to understand the difference between refugees and asylum seekers to comply with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) guidelines. “Those who are asylum seekers are seeking protection from their home country and are yet to be recognised as a refugee by the host nation,” she explains. “Therefore, these individuals are awarded separate statuses and their right to work checks must be conducted as per UKVI guidance.”

Asylum seekers

“For an asylum seeker, employers need to look out for their application registration card (ARC) –  which is set to be discontinued – or biometric residence permit (BRP), which is the card used by asylum claimants to demonstrate they have made an asylum claim in the UK,” says Kaur.

“Only certain individuals are awarded permission to work as asylum seekers and they will be restricted to working in jobs on the shortage occupation list published by the Home Office. Their ARC will state ‘work permitted shortage OCC’. Any permission to work granted will come to an end if their claim is refused and any appeal rights are exhausted.” 

Kaur adds that a business will be able to accept a “new biometric style or an old-style ARC”, provided they verify the right to work and any work restrictions “by obtaining a positive verification notice (PVN) issued by the Employer Checking Service”. 

She warns that this will expire six months from the date of the initial PVN being made and a “follow-up check must be undertaken” if the statutory excuse is to be retained. 

Refugees 

“For those who hold refugee status, UKVI awards them with unrestricted access to the UK labour market,” says Kaur. 

“A refugee can demonstrate their right to work through the Home Office online service if they have a BRP or immigration status document – which is an older form of document issued to refugees and certain other categories of migrant prior to the introduction of the BRP. This requires a manual check.”

Recruitment and fairness 

Dieu Hack-Polay, professor of organisational studies at the University of Lincoln and Crandall University, says employers and HR departments need to make the process as “fair as possible” for all groups of refugees, as cultural differences could be a “disadvantage” in certain areas. “It may be important to inform the refugees about the recruitment process and what is expected in the selection process,” he says.  

“This would enable them to prepare and show their capabilities. At the same time this pre-recruitment information will create a level playing field for refugees from various cultural spheres, especially those who are not familiar with western recruitment processes.”

Staff involved in the recruitment process would require cultural and sensitivity training to “enable them to approach the recruitment process among refugees with an open mindset”, adds Hack-Polay . 

He also points put that cultural bias can play a big part, and that “openness to difference” will allow everyone to focus on skills, capabilities and behavioural attitudes that “actually matter”. 

Being supportive 

Washika Haak-Saheem, associate professor in human resource management at Henley Business School, says employing refugees is a “rewarding but challenging task” for organisations, and a supportive work environment is key. “A supportive environment will allow sufficient time and resources for comprehensive onboarding, orientation and training programmes tailored to the needs of refugee employees,” explains Haak-Saheem. 

“This may include language classes, cultural integration and skills development. To this end, assigning mentors or coaches to support refugee employees during their integration process ensures they receive ongoing guidance and feedback.” 

She also suggests offering resources and support for HR specialists such as “trauma counselling, and assistance with navigating social services”.

Review HR policies 

Refugees bring “tremendous benefits” in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion, says Hack-Polay, but employers need to be aware of exploitation danger. “Most refugees will not go and ask openly for a pay rise or promotion. The employers should ensure that the refugees are not kept permanently at the bottom of the organisational ladder or pay scale because they are refugees and not vocal,” he says. 

“The organisation’s diversity policies have to be revisited and enacted to keep up to date with the changing demographic landscape of the UK and ensure the refugees are not priced out of opportunities because of their status.” 

Meanwhile, Haak-Saheem says that employers should review and update their non-discrimination policy to explicitly include “protection against discrimination based on refugee status, nationality or ethnicity”. 

She explains this policy should “clearly communicate” the organisation's commitment to equal opportunities and fair treatment for all employees. “However, it is of equal relevance to avoid positive discrimination for encouraging and building equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. To this end, reasonable accommodations should be made to address specific needs related to religious practices, cultural observances or trauma-related concerns,” says Haak-Saheem. 

Actions to take if you can’t employ new staff 

If taking on new employees is not an option for an organisation, Haak-Saheem and Hack-Polay suggest the following alternative actions to support refugees: 

  • Mentoring 
  • Collaboration with local refugee support organisations 
  • Job readiness workshops 
  • Referrals to external employment opportunities 
  • Internships 
  • Job trials 
  • Work placements 
  • Funding for community training schemes