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Firms frightened to speak out about employing refugees


Employers that take on refugees who have been granted permission to stay in the UK are often impressed with the calibre of their work – but frightened to publicise the fact that they employ them, for fear of negative publicity.

Institute for Employment Studies research, carried out on behalf of the Employability Forum, looked at the experience of employers who have been active in recruiting and training refugees in a cross-section of business sectors. The ten employers included a hotel chain, a construction company, a food manufacturer and a bus company, as well as the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

“Employers believe that the public perception towards refugees is so negative that speaking out about it could threaten their custom,” said Angel Human Resources. “The public impression is that refugees are coming in and stealing jobs. This stems from the media, so it is the responsibility of this industry to provide positive press.”

Employers said the benefits of recruiting refugees, include their commitment, strong work ethic and productivity. The Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said that the payback far outweighed the extra costs.

In most cases they employed refugees because of labour shortages and a commitment to promote a diverse workforce, but only a few companies specifically targeted refugees.

Barriers to recruitment
The report identifies a number of barriers to recruiting refugees – particularly the difficulties in checking documentation and low levels of English skills. Although companies were taking action to deal with this, including work placements and induction and English language schemes, they were looking for more government assistance, particularly over documentation. This could include simple guidelines, a helpline and ID cards.

Employers were concerned that current English language courses were not adequate in providing work-specific vocabulary and call for Government investment in work-related training for refugees.

The report suggests that work placement programmes that can lead on to more permanent jobs are a particularly effective way to ease the transition of refugees into the labour market and enable them to gain UK work experience. Companies saw them as an ideal way to cover short-term requirements which would otherwise involve the added costs of agency labour.

Schemes under which foreign nationals currently enter the UK include the following:

  • Work Permit Scheme – an estimated 180,000 annually.
  • Sectoral schemes for the food processing and tourism industries allow employers to recruit 20,000 workers a year.
  • The seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme allows up to 25,000 non-EU nationals under 30 to be recruited for a year.
  • a Working Holidaymakers Scheme for Commonwealth Citizens under 30, under which 38,500 came to Britain in 2000.
  • Last year an estimated 35,000 refugees of various ages were given permission to stay.

    To view the full report, Employing Refugees: Some Organisations’ Experiences, click here

    2 Responses

    1. Encouragement to Employ Refugees
      I am currently involved with a project in Glasgow called the New Glaswegians where we provide skills and cultural awareness training to refugees in Glasgow and encourage and support employers who employ the refugees. The programme has been running since the end of January and it has been rewarding seeing employers/potential employers be more positive and are willing to take that first step. As one of the trainers on the project I find that the refugees I work with are hard working, enthusiastic and more than anything just want to make a positive contribution to the local community and economy – and if they can, change attitudes as well.

      Brenda Harrison

    2. Employing non EU nationals can be a minefield
      Immigration law and the employment of non EU nationals is becoming ever more complex, and adds a significant burden to anyone in HR who is expected to be up to date with requirements – get it wrong and the media have a field day. I know from experience that even the experts within the Home Office get it wrong on occasions! I strongly advise the use of a specialist if you need one. I would be happy to share my knowledge and experience – just drop me an email.

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