Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Refugee Council


  It is a key pillar of the Government's Welfare to Work agenda to help previously excluded groups, such as refugees, into work. Unemployment rates among refugees are unacceptably high, double the rate of ethnic minorities in the UK generally, and difficult to reconcile with the levels of experience, skills, qualifications and motivation they have to offer. This continues even years after they have obtained favourable decisions. Figures for unemployment range from 60-95 per cent and around 75 per cent even after a number of years in the UK. Evidence of casual employment, underemployment and exploitation by unscrupulous employers is also profoundly disturbing.

  The barriers to unemployment refugees face are numerous. They not only have to contend with problems concerning language but also racial discrimination, other negative assumptions held by employers, an employment culture to which they are unfamiliar and a system which does little to understand or help the situation they face.

  A strategy needs to be formulated in the interests of individual refugees. It is necessary because employment is the single biggest problem in the successful settlement of refugees in the UK. The Government's consultation paper on refugee integration states:

    The experiences of the unemployed during the past decades have shown that those who are not active participants in economic life of the country become increasingly marginalised. With unemployment lower than for a number of years there is an opportunity to ensure that refugees can participate fully in the job market.[7]

  A 1995 Home Office Research Study, "The Settlement of Refugees in Britain", confirmed much of the Refugee Council's own experience when it found that:

    the struggle to enter the job market tended to dominate interviewees' concerns.[8]

  The Refugee Council believes that there can be no convincing settlement policy for refugees which fails to tackle unemployment, and recommends the development of services which specifically promote successful settlement and employment. Indeed, such thinking chimes with the Government's Welfare-to-Work and Social Exclusion agendas, both of which are predicated on a recognition that the best route out of poverty and dependency is through work.

  But such a strategy is also needed for the sake of the country. The contribution which refugees can make to national productivity—in commerce, the arts, the sciences, industry, the professions, ideas and in terms of cultural diversity—is considerable and was documented by the Refugee Council's "Credit to the Nation" report in 1997.

  The Refugees Council submits that refugees are most likely to secure appropriate employment as the result of progression through various stages including: sorting out other aspects of their lives (housing, health, welfare etc), basic English language, intermediate English language, "job ready" levels of English language, referrals to FE, HE and courses of vocational training, work-based training, followed by support in job search and application, and in-job support and mentoring.


  We are the leading refugee agency in the UK, giving practical advice to asylum seekers and refugees and seeking to advance their rights in the UK and abroad. We are also a membership organisation. Refugee community organisations and other agencies such as Action Aid, Amnesty International and Oxfam are members of the Refugee Council.

  Our work focuses on helping refugees settle in the UK and gain access to essential services. Our Training and Employment Section (TES) provides co-ordinated support and a wide range of courses to help refugees utilise their skills, experience and expertise in order to gain employment.


  From fish and chips to the field of psycho-analysis, from the founding of the Labour Party to the Mini, the evidence is all around us that the economy, the arts and sciences and above all, our humanity, have all have been enriched by those who have sought sanctuary here.

  In 1997 The Refugee Council produced a report showing how refugees have contributed enormously to both the economy and society over the past 450 years. "Credit to the Nation" described how many household names today are evidence of the presence of refugees.[9]

Famous exiles who have lived in Britain:

  Camille Pissarro—Painter

  Victor Hugo—Writer

  Karl Marx—Political Revolutionary

  Sigmund Freud—Psychologist

  Oliver Tambo—Former ANC President

Refugees who have made their names in Britain:

  Michael Marks—Founder of Marks and Spencer

  Sir Montague Burton—Burton Retail

  Andre Deutsch—Publisher

  Lord Weidenfield—Publisher

  Rabbi Hugo Gryn—Leading Anglo-German Rabbi

  Sir Karl Popper—Philosopher

  Sir George Solti—Conductor

  Yasmin Alibhai Brown—Journalist

  Alan Yentob—Broadcasting

Academic Achievement:

  Refugees listed with the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning include:

    17 Noble Laureates

    71 Fellows or foreign members of the Royal Society

    50 Fellows or corresponding Fellows of the British Academy

  The route to success for the overwhelming majority of these refugees was through work.



  The 1995 Home Office study concluded:

    Given the skills which most had to offer, this failure to enter the job market to any significant degree is a substantial loss not only to them as individuals, and to their families (nearly 60 per cent of households had no other source of income than state benefits), but to the whole country as a whole. [10]

  Annex 1 provides a useful outline of the current research on the extent of unemployment and underemployment of refugees. Despite acknowledging the skills and qualifications refugees have to offer, this body of evidence suggests that the barriers to unemployment for refugees are so high that few are able to successfully overcome them.

4.2  Case Studies

  S has been awaiting a decision on his asylum claim for three years. Back in Algeria he worked as a teacher of English to secondary school children but has yet to find any work at all in the UK despite having gained a Level 2 NVQ in Administration and IT.

  B came to the UK from Uganda in 1990. Four years later she was granted Exceptional Leave to Remain. Due to the high costs involved she could not continue her studies by going to UK university. Her attempts to find work, however, have also been frustrating. She believes that her lack of UK work experience has restricted her to cleaning and catering jobs.

  L used to be a lecturer in the United States before entering public service in his native Sierra Leone. He held a number of senior posts before having to seek sanctuary in the UK in 1997. His attempts to find work as a lecturer or as an administrator were unsuccessful so he enrolled on a short IT course to gain a UK recognised qualification. Despite his obvious intelligence and skills he was forced to consider working as a minicab driver but found he could not because he did not hold a UK driving licence. It was only through his local Baptist church did he find a position in the voluntary sector which led, in time, to his current job as a manager in a charity.

4.3  Barriers

  Annex 2 lists some of main recent research studies into barriers to employment. A systematic attempt to dismantle these barriers—some practical, others based on the perceptions of refugees or employers—must be the starting point for any employment strategy.

  Some of the problems encountered are dependent on a range of factors including the circumstances of flight, country of origin, age, previous education, training, qualifications and work experience. But generally, the available literature reveals a consensus on the main barriers that need to be successfully dismantled.

4.3.1  Refugees

  The main barriers to employment, as perceived by refugees [not in order of importance]:

    —  unfair discrimination by employers based on racial or cultural prejudices;

    —  inadequate English;

    —  lack of ESOL support on training courses;

    —  lack of information on courses available.

    —  lack of recognition of previous qualifications;

    —  lack of UK work experience and a lack of recognition by employers of home country experience;

    —  childcare problems;

    —  lack of confidence;

    —  lack of knowledge of UK culture;

    —  lack of knowledge of UK labour market (and its culture);

    —  lack of post-training support;

    —  lack of access to the best job-finding sources;

    —  lack of job-search skills;

    —  problems of access to education because of status/regulations and fees;

    —  employer ignorance and anxiety about legal status;

    —  unsuitable training courses—wrong level or don't lead to jobs;

    —  problems concerning benefits;

    —  sporting out the basics, a package of problems.

4.3.2  Employers

  The main barriers to employment, identified by employers [not in order of importance]:

    —  uncertainty/anxiety about permission to work and status;

    —  inadequate English language and communication skills;

    —  ignorance about refugees (such as the difference between asylum seekers and those with status) and their skills and potential;

    —  negative perceptions of refugees — media-induced prejudices and images of refugees as helpless, destitute and as having nothing to offer the employer;

    —  overseas work experience perceived as not comparable, not as good or difficult to assess.

  The new Immigration and Asylum Act may well add to these problems. For example, the 1995 Home Office study found that refugees outside London find it even more difficult to find work than their London counterparts. So, for the Government's dispersal scheme to work, attention needs to be paid by all government departments to ensuring that refugees are able to contribute to their new communities and not be forced to move back to London.


5.1  Need for a Framework

The Government, in its recently published consultation paper on the settlement of refugees, acknowledges that refugees face many social exclusion problems:

    There is a weight of evidence that refugees find difficulties in making the transition from support to independence and fulfilling their potential for development and contribution to society.[11]

  The Refugee Council has for many years argued that the lack of a coherent and systematic policy framework to the reception and settlement of refugees in the UK has hindered the development of integrated services for people in need of protection. The measures outlined in the recent Immigration and Asylum Act concentrate almost exclusively on the reception of asylum seekers. We, therefore, welcomed this attempt to improve the co-ordination of refugee integration in the UK.

  In particular, we welcomed the sentiments expressed in the document which recognised that too often refugees are unable to fulfill their potential to contribute to society and find it difficult to access services. Although the consultation document emphasisa co-ordination and partnership, we expressed our concern that it provided little practical detail on how the sentiments expressed would be achieved.

  On employment we suggested a three-stage model based both on an understanding of the needs of refugees and employers and on a willingness to work with a range of Government initiatives in place to combat poverty and social exclusion.

5.2  Government's co-ordinating role

  The Refugee Council welcomed the proposal in the integration paper of the establishment of a core group of interested government departments, local authority representatives and key voluntary organisations.

  We envisage this co-ordination role as:

    —  Ensuring that all local authorities and government departments adopt a common framework in relation to the refugees' integration strategy.

    —  Ensuring that any strategy which is developed embraces both what is intended and what occurs as a result of the intention.

    —  Ensuring that the voluntary sector is involved in an advisory capacity based on its expertise and experience within the sector.

    —  Ensuring good practice is set up when meeting the needs of refugees and disseminating it across all partnerships. We suggest that one of the key functions of the core group would be to develop in partnership with the voluntary sector, a quality system specific for the refugee sector. This will ensure in the long-term equity of the service provision to refugees, a more systematic approach towards quality of refugee services in all geographical areas (including monitoring, evaluation and planning) and a common language for all partners at regional and national level.

    —  Providing clear guidance to Local Authorities and other relevant statutory providers on how to fulfil their responsibilities in relation to the integration of refugees.

    —  Providing national data as specified in the strategic plans for each regional partnership.

5.2.1  Recommendation:

  The Home Office will take the leading role in setting up the core group and ensuring the co-ordination function in relation to other central and local government departments and voluntary agencies. Representation on this group needs to be at a senior level to ensure decisions can be made at an early stage and carried through effectively.


  A research report commissioned by the Refugee Council, funded by the Network Foundation and written by Matthew Nimmo of Mba Training and Research & Development Ltd highlighted the need for a model of progression, from arrival to successful employment, to ensure that today's refugees are allowed to contribute to the UK economy as past generations of refugees have been allowed.

  Such a strategy must, the report recommended, aim:

    —  To increase all refugees' awareness of, and access to, the services available to them.

    —  To ensure that refugees are provided with personalised support and guidance at every step on the path.

    —  To offer refugees ways of integrating into British society and work culture without losing their cultural identities.

6.1  Stage 1 Orientation and Planning

  The orientation stage involves services customised for refugees—ie services that no UK citizen would need. This would include non-vocational education, including English language to be available for all asylum seekers. Not only would this be useful for asylum seekers in the course of their daily lives and better their employment prospects if they are subsequently recognised as refugees, it will also provide them with some gainful activity as they await a decision on their cases.

  Similarly, asylum seekers should be allowed to volunteer. As a safeguard against possible abuse of volunteers by unscrupulous employers, this volunteering may be restricted to certain recognised/registered community organisations.

6.1.1  Recommendations

    —  Non-vocational education, including English language, should be made available to all asylum seekers.

    —  Asylum seekers should be allowed to volunteer with recognised community organisations.

6.2  Stage 2 Pathways into Work

  The Pathways into Work stage involves services that enable refugees to make full use of mainstream services and opportunities. For example: accreditation of prior learning in another country; key skills courses so that they have the key skills required by UK employers which can be different from those required in their home countries: requalification packages for professionals to enable them to register with UK professional associations; specialist help to make their way through New Deal schemes; extra English language provided within or to support a vocational training course.

6.2.1  Doctors and Teachers

  A vivid example of the problems refugees have in finding work can be found in the area of health. Despite public concern about the NHS, there are many experienced refugee doctors who are unable to find work because of the problems associated in having their qualifications accredited in the UK and because of the prohibitive costs involved. Not only is this a waste of their talent, the taxpayer too misses an opportunity to retain/formally recognise an experienced doctor for substantially less than it does to train a new doctor.

  Refugee teachers with many years of experience teaching young children are being lost to the nation because many are forced to take unskilled jobs or retrain as adult tutors. At a time when refugee children are likely to be soon dispersed to schools with little experience of, or expertise for, dealing with them it is vital that more is done so this valuable resource is not ignored.

6.2.2.  Settlement Package

  The Refugee Council believes that those recognised as refugees or granted ELR should be entitled to a package of support aimed at providing a foundation for working life. Such a settlement package should provide advice on benefits, housing, health and other basic needs which are prerequisites to successful job searching:

    —  advice and guidance on basic needs

    —  advice about careers and employment and the UK job culture and labour market

    —  introduction and advice on core skills, such as literacy, numeracy, IT skills and team working

    —  individual assessment of what is needed to obtain them in each case

    —  expert assessment of skills gaps caused by missed education and interrupted training and employment

6.2.3  Personal Development Plans

  Personal Development Plans will be needed to record how the various deficits might be made up in each case and successful completion of each stage of progression. These would then need to be monitored to provide evidence of progress and highlight areas where Government action may be necessary.

  Helping refugees explore the opportunities available to them in realising their aspirations, and assisting them in planning how to make best use of those opportunities, is a worthy objective. The process of achieving it would require research and consultation drawing on the experience of refugees, refugee communities and organisations with experience in related areas such as careers advice.

  In addition, this stage also requires specialist services to enable refugees to access mainstream services. These could perhaps be funded by TEC, ESF and Government money.

6.2.4  Recommendations

    —  The Government should work with refugee and relevant professional bodies to investigate what it can do to help refugees with specialist skills, such as doctors and teachers, to be accredited in the UK and then find work. The General Medical Council's Advisory Group on Medical and Dental Education, Training and Staff recently published a report offering a number of solutions to the problems facing refugee doctors. The Government needs to examine and act on its findings.

    —  The Government should investigate the idea of "settlement packages", perhaps through pilot projects.

    —  In particular, services and advice for asylum seekers and refugees need to be made more accessible.

    —  Personal Development Plans should be piloted before being introduced on a national basis. The Refugee Council would be prepared to submit a more detailed proposal for implementing this element of the model.

6.3  Stage 3 In-Job Support

  The In-Job support stage involves mainly mainstream services that might be needed by other categories tackling the labour market from a disadvantaged start, for example: homeless, young people who have fallen out of the system or people who are long term unemployed. This stage also needs to include intensive orientation customised for refugees to allow for successful move-on.

6.3.1  UK Experience

  A key factor preventing refugees finding work is their lack of UK-based work experience. The Refugee Council's Training and Employment Section (TES) runs a Mentoring Programme which aims to help refugees understand the world of work, give them support and encouragement in their search for work and allow them into a network of information and advice which would otherwise be difficult for them to access. This innovative pilot project has been supported by the DfEE.

  The Government needs to work with the voluntary sector and employers so that such mentoring schemes are more widely available to refugees. It doing this, it may wish to draw on not only our experience but that in other European countries. For example, refugees in the Netherlands have been able to take work placements in the civil service. A similar level of willingness and flexibility from our own civil service would be desirable, not least by it being a practical step towards diversity in the civil service.

6.3.2  Specialist Support

  Advisers at the Employment Placement office at TES have been successful in helping many refugees find work. The office is a popular and useful place for refugees, and asylum seekers with permission to work, to seek advice, look for jobs and fill in job applications. That it is run by staff with expertise and an understanding of the problems encountered by refugees in getting to work is a key reason why so many refugees have found it a valuable resource.

6.3.3  Documentation Problems and Prejudice

  The experience of staff from the Employment Placement office and, indeed, the whole of TES, informs our thinking on why refugees have difficulty in finding work and what the Government can do to help them.

  One step that the Government can take is to simplify the standard permission to work document. Employers have a legitimate complaint on documentation. They cannot understand why refugees and asylum seekers with permission to work present themselves with such a bewildering array of forms and documents, some with identification photographs and some without.

  Every major employer who followed up a recent event on the employment of refugees, organised by the City Parochial Foundation, with suggestions prioritised the need for a single, universally-applicable, permission-to-work document.

  The Refugee Council and a broad coalition, including the TUC, the CBI and the CRE and the Better Regulation Taskforce all recommended the Government repeal section 8 of the Immigration and Asylum Act (1996) because of the burden it places on employers and because of fears that some employers were "going white" by not employing people with foreign-sounding names.

  Refugees have other problems concerning documentation. Understandably, many do not have passports or other accepted identity documents but this presents great problems if they try to open a bank account or try and obtain a driving licence. This, in turn, hinders their search for employment, even if they are easily capable of doing it. For example, some refugees are forced to cash their wage cheques at specialist shops despite the high charges for doing so simply because they are unable to place these cheques into a bank account of their own.

6.3.4  Recommendations

The Government needs to help the voluntary sector, particularly refugee community organisations, develop innovative and effective schemes to help refugees overcome their lack of UK work experience. It should investigate how the Civil Service may be able to harness the skills of refugees and, at the same time, may take practical efforts at improving ethnic minority representation throughout Whitehall.

  Employers, particularly large private sector firms, should be encouraged to participate in mentoring and work placement schemes. Of course, fully-involving refugees in work experience programmes will also give refugees an opportunity to show employers what they can achieve.

  The proposed Intermediaries Fund should be used to help refugees into the world of work. Refugees groups, who have knowledge of their clients and their needs, could work with local employment service/job agencies, which are underused by refugees, to this end. Future projects could draw on the experience and programmes of the Refugee Council's TES.

  The Fund could also be used for sectoral-level projects. Refugees with skills in key skill shortage areas, such as Information Technology, Accountancy, Health and Engineering Design could be helped into employment through programmes geared to harnessing their skills for the good of the economy.

  Clearly, much of the necessary Government support will be in the form of money but the Government must also ensure that assistance from the European Social Fund can be delivered appropriately to small voluntary sector organisations. The DfEE's proposed changes to ESF funding are likely to hinder these organisations and the unique service they are able to provide.

  Given the policy to disperse refugees around the country and the current media coverage on asylum seekers, the Government urgently needs to explain to local communities who refugees are, which parts of the world they are coming from and the UK' duties to them under the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol. It must also explain some of the reasons why refugees might have been forced to flee and to described some of the difficulties refugees may face in settling and what local communities might do to help.

  In particular, the Government needs to inform and educate employers about refugees. This education should highlight the skills and experiences refugees have to offer but also advise employers about employing refugees.

  Working with employers, trade unions and refugee groups, the Government should devise a single permission-to-work form. This should clearly state how long the refugee has permission to work. This document should also have an "employer helpline" number to call so that enquiries about status and the law can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

  Section 8 of the 1996 Act should be repealed at the next opportunity.

  The Government should work with the main high street banks to combat the financial exclusion of asylum seekers and refugees.

Refugee Council

April 2000

7   A Consultation Paper on the Integration of Recognised Refugees in the UK, Home Office, 1999, section 2.16.1. Back

8   The Settlement of Refugees in Britain, Home Office Research Study 141, 1995, pg ix. Back

9   Credit to the Nation, Refugee Council, 1997, pp 4-5. Back

10   The Settlement of Refugees in Britain, Home Office Research Study 141, 1995, p 98. Back

11   A Consultation Paper on the Integration of Recognised Refugees in the UK, Home Office, 1999, section S.2. Back

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