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An employer’s guide to employing refugees

Refugees are more likely to be unemployed than people born in the UK. As employers there are actions which you can take to support refugees in employment.

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In the UK, refugees are significantly more likely to be unemployed compared to individuals born in the UK. Whilst some of the factors which contribute to this low employment rate can only be solved through Government decisions, many actions can be taken by employers to make their recruitment process more accessible for refugees. In this article we will address the barriers which refugees may experience in recruitment and highlight how simple actions can be carried out by employers to overcome them.

Can refugees work in the UK?

Yes, individuals who have successfully claimed asylum in the UK and have been granted official refugee status are able to work in the UK. Once an individual is granted refugee status, there are no restrictions on the type of work they can do and at what skill level (unless their biometric residence permit says otherwise). If a refugee has indefinite leave to remain or enter then their right to work status will not expire. However, if a refugee has time-limited leave to enter or remain, then their right to work status will usually expire with their status.

If you would like to read about the right to work status of asylum seekers in the UK then please head over to our dedicated article.


How employing refugees can benefit your organisation

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Business in the Community has encouraged employers to recognise that recruiting refugees is not just an act of compassion, but is one in which can benefit organisations. By becoming a ‘refugee-friendly’ employer, organisation can benefit from the following:


According to research by McKinsey, organisations where employees come from a variety of backgrounds are likely to be more profitable than their competitors. Employers which have a diverse workforce are able to draw on the diverse experiences, knowledge, and skills held by their employees. By harnessing this diversity organisations can drive their growth, improve their processes and as such develop innovative working practices.

Employ qualified and skilled individuals

Research from the Nuffield Foundation found that almost half of the refugees surveyed had a qualification prior to coming to the UK. Moreover, Deloitte found that 38% of refugees have been to university. Therefore, there is no doubt that refugees have the skills required to fulfil the vacancies in the UK’s labour market and drive your organisation forward.


Research from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Tent Partnership for Refugees found that 73% of the US employers surveyed had a higher retention rate amongst their refugee employees. Having a higher retention rate benefits employers as there is less disruption to your workforce and projects which means less money is being spent on training and recruitment costs. Additionally, this study also found that retaining refugees enabled other employees to improve their management and leadership skills.

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Whether you wish to claim asylum in the UK, or if you have claimed asylum in the UK and need further assistance, get in touch with us to speak to an expert immigration lawyer.

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How to be a ‘refugee-friendly’ employer

As an employer there are simple things which you can do to make your recruitment process more ‘welcoming’ for refugees:

Make the recruitment process accessible and straightforward

Refugees are not born in the UK which means that not only is English not their first language, but they won’t be accustomed to the recruitment process in the UK. Therefore, it is important that your job advert (and accompanying documents) are jargon-free and explicitly state the various application stages and what is expected at each stage

It may be beneficial to create a document which outlines each application stage and answers any questions which an applicant may have in relation to them. For instance, if you use psychometric tests be sure to outline what they are and why you are using them. Alternatively, if at interview you will ask strength-based questions and competency-based questions, be sure to outline what this means.

Don’t judge gaps in employment

It can take years to claim asylum in the UK and unlike in the EU and the US, the majority of asylum seekers cannot work in the UK until they are granted official refugee status. As a result of the UK’s prolonged asylum process combined with the restrictions on asylum seekers, it means that refugees will often have an ‘employment gap’ on their CV when they were unable to work. As an employer it is vital that you don’t see this gap as a red flag, and instead, are compassionate as to why this gap exists.

Assess the required qualifications

Having required qualifications on a job specification can be a useful tool in shortlisting candidates, however, it can exclude refugees who don’t have a UK qualification or don’t have the evidence to document their qualification.

Inevitably refugees are likely to have gained their qualifications outside of the UK, and so, you may not recognise them when they are presented to you. However, just because you may not be familiar with the qualification does not mean that they should be disregarded. Additionally, many refugees would have fled their country of origin in fear of persecution, and so, will not have the required documentation needed to prove their qualifications. Again, the lack of documentation does not mean that the candidate is not capable of carrying out the role at hand. In these circumstances it may be worthwhile to assess what qualifications are essential and if there are other ways in which you can assess the skill of the candidate (e.g. through a test or on the job).

Don’t disregard ‘overqualified’ candidates

Following on from the previous point, many refugees do possess qualifications. However despite this, many refugees still seek lower skilled jobs in the UK due to a range of factors such as needing money straight away, wishing to integrate into the local community, or using it as a launchpad to practice their English. Whatever the reason, as an employer you should not reject an application because a candidate is ‘overqualified’, and instead, just focus on whether the individual has the skills required to fulfil the vacancy. 

Broaden the referee requirements

Prior to commencing employment, many employers require individuals to provide two or three references from people who have known the individual in a professional manner. Whilst it is understandable that you want to ensure that the candidate is fit for the job, it can be impossible to contact the previous employers of refugees. In these circumstances it may be worth allowing refugees to provide character references from people such as their friends or social workers.

Be a flexible employer

Whilst Covid changed our outlook on where and how work occurs, many employers are calling employees back to the office. However, for refugees who have only just settled in the UK making this commute may present issues. For instance, prior to being granted refugee status, usually individuals would only have been given £40.85 per week whilst awaiting a decision on their asylum claim. This amount of money would leave them with little to spare after bills and essential payments have been made, which means that they are unlikely to have been able to gain a UK driving licence (and car) during this time. Therefore, many refugees starting off in the workplace are likely to rely on public transport, which depending on where you are in the UK, can be unreliable or non-existent. As an employer, you can work with the individual to create a working plan which is suitable for them, be that hybrid or remote working.

Promote your job vacancy across multiple channels

In today’s society, job seekers are not just using one channel to job search. It is vital then that you advertise your job vacancy in a broad range of places, be that at the job centre, in newspapers, on online job boards, or on social media. The chances are that if you include this mix of channels, refugees will stumble across your listing.


How can Paragon Law help?

At Paragon Law, our immigration solicitors and lawyers have supported many individuals to claim asylum in the UK. If you require assistance in relation to claiming asylum in the UK then please contact us to arrange a consultation with an expert immigration lawyer.

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