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
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
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
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.
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
productivityin commerce, the arts, the sciences, industry,
the professions, ideas and in terms of cultural diversityis
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.
2. THE REFUGEE
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.
3. A CREDIT TO
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
Famous exiles who have lived in Britain:
Karl MarxPolitical Revolutionary
Oliver TamboFormer ANC President
Refugees who have made their names in Britain:
Michael MarksFounder of Marks and Spencer
Sir Montague BurtonBurton Retail
Rabbi Hugo GrynLeading Anglo-German Rabbi
Sir Karl PopperPhilosopher
Sir George SoltiConductor
Yasmin Alibhai BrownJournalist
Refugees listed with the Society for the Protection
of Science and Learning include:
71 Fellows or foreign members of the Royal Society
50 Fellows or corresponding Fellows of the British
The route to success for the overwhelming majority
of these refugees was through work.
4. A SIGNIFICANT
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
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
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.
Annex 2 lists some of main recent research studies
into barriers to employment. A systematic attempt to dismantle
these barrierssome practical, others based on the perceptions
of refugees or employersmust 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
The main barriers to employment, as perceived
by refugees [not in order of importance]:
unfair discrimination by employers
based on racial or cultural prejudices;
lack of ESOL support on training
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;
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
lack of job-search skills;
problems of access to education because
of status/regulations and fees;
employer ignorance and anxiety about
unsuitable training courseswrong
level or don't lead to jobs;
problems concerning benefits;
sporting out the basics, a package
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
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
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.
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.
6. A MODEL FOR
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,
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
6.1 Stage 1 Orientation and Planning
The orientation stage involves services customised
for refugeesie 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.
6.2 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
7 A Consultation Paper on the Integration of Recognised
Refugees in the UK, Home Office, 1999, section 2.16.1. Back
The Settlement of Refugees in Britain, Home Office Research
Study 141, 1995, pg ix. Back
Credit to the Nation, Refugee Council, 1997, pp 4-5. Back
The Settlement of Refugees in Britain, Home Office Research Study
141, 1995, p 98. Back
A Consultation Paper on the Integration of Recognised Refugees
in the UK, Home Office, 1999, section S.2. Back