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The scale of global displacement is unprecedented. We have 82 million people displaced, including 48 million internally displaced people and 33 million refugees

The resulting loss of livelihood has created an urgent need for alternative solutions for refugee resilience, yet so many refugees face marginalization in their host communities.  Employment opportunities are limited, not just by individual circumstance, but by legal and structural barriers. 

Countries that host refugees continually struggle with political and economic challenges, including financial pressures, shrinking economies, rising unemployment, and social tensions. 

How can these challenges be addressed? 

A new narrative for employment for both refugees and their host communities will help to alleviate some of these challenges. 

But a much more practical and immediate solution has emerged that company founders, C-suite executives, and HR leaders can facilitate.

One solution is remote work for refugees.

Remote work has been proven as a productive business model since the emergence of the COVID pandemic. Innovative employers are expanding their hiring horizons across borders to take advantage of an exponentially larger talent pool of global candidates. This immense, immediate shift in mentality presents a huge opportunity to provide a livelihood for refugees who have the skills and networks to be employed. 

Hiring refugees can ease the urgent need for digital talent

The global talent gap is widening, leading to a significant loss of many companies’ competitive edge. In the United States, most employers (69%) encounter difficulties when looking for skilled workers in IT, sales and marketing positions, the most difficult sectors to fill. 

The skill gap is also evident in Europe, where 87% of executives have or anticipate a skills gap in their workforce. Most alarmingly, the talent gap is especially visible in impoverished and minority populations, including refugees, due to unequal access to digital skills training. 

Not only are digital skills in demand, but employers believe the most important skills for future jobs are critical thinking, analysis, problem solving, self-management, active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility. In fact, compared with digital technology skills, the gap in soft skills among the global workforce is even greater.  

This talent gap can provide opportunities for refugees, who are largely excluded from the global workforce. With the appropriate skills training and networks, refugees can be well positioned to fill these gaps. 

Hiring refugees is not just altruistic, it’s profitable

Recruiting refugees has an economic benefit. Evidence continually suggests that hiring refugees leads to stronger retention rates and improved diversity in their workforce. 

Simply, in comparison to non-refugee workers, refugee employees stay in their jobs longer, which represents a significant advantage for the companies who hire them. This results in increased profits over the longer term. 

Apart from these direct financial gains, the favorable and welcoming environment created by employers for refugee hires offers new job opportunities for individuals from other underrepresented groups. 

This facilitates a new culture of acceptance and openness towards displaced talent and those from other minority backgrounds. Employers can expect increased support from customers for refugee-hiring organizations and brands, resulting in a unique in-market advantage. 

Opportunities presented by remote work for refugees

As COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to remote employment, many more companies realize that they no longer need to rely solely on talent in their physical location. 

Global employment through technology presents an opportunity for many refugees who experience limited access to employment opportunities in their host countries. 

Remote work can open doors to employment that are unrestricted by geography.  

Building digital skills for refugees

Research conducted by Na’amal has identified multiple existing programs that had the potential to open new opportunities, markets, and networks for refugees to access digital work. These include both online education and training initiatives and broad pathways to digital work. 

The number of programs continues to grow, especially with the acceleration toward remote work, along with the realization among refugee-supporting organizations of the potential this presents. These programs and platforms offer skills development across the gamut of digital skills, from advanced skills such as coding and software development, to the most basic skills in digital literacy like data tagging and administration. 

The right to remote work for refugees

These opportunities for remote work for refugees are not straightforward, because of the legal restrictions surrounding the right to work. 

Refugees’ right to work is enshrined in the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Yet, legislation in host countries prevents refugees’ legal access to work. This is a reality faced by up to 70% of refugees. This is often the result of government policies preventing refugees from competing with the local population. It is unclear how this translates to working remotely for a foreign employer, where, it can be argued, there is no direct competition with the local population. 

In reality, the remote work space is still in its infancy and government regulations (even for people who are not refugees) can often be unclear.

How can refugees be hired legally in a fully-remote capacity 

The reality is that the majority of refugees, even in places where they have the right to work, do so informally. The evolution of remote gig and platform work lends itself to this informality, and has been seen as a potential opportunity for refugees. 

Yet full-time work may be a more desirable option for refugees. However, this depends on refugees having the right to work in their host countries. 

Two major pathways could be considered to facilitate this. 

  • The first is hiring refugees as contractors. This makes individuals responsible for their own tax and social security, becoming legal self-employees.
  • The second pathway would be to use an employer of record as a local employer operator, whose main responsibilities would include managing payroll and social security requirements in the worker’s home country. 

Remote for Refugees simplifies the process for companies committed to impact hiring and a work-from-anywhere culture to hire refugees. This initiative clearly sets the stage for companies, governments and organisations to come up with effective solutions that enable refugees to rebuild their lives through access to dignified employment opportunities. 

Remote for Refugees helps displaced talent move closer to a model of digital refugee livelihood which provides formal and sustainable remote work, aiming to guide refugees toward meaningful, dignified high-skilled long-term employment. 

The immense opportunity for remote-first employers

It is essential to understand the challenges and barriers faced by refugees when seeking employment so that strategies can be implemented to find better employment opportunities.

Both the absence of established regulations in many refugee-host countries and the lack of understanding around digital remote work lead to the creation of structural, legal, and social barriers that prevent refugees from accessing formal work. 

Having a full-time job is by far the most important source of financial, social and personal stability. 

Unfortunately, many refugees still encounter difficulties in getting in-person jobs.

The current legal status of refugees and the structural and social barriers that exist in most refugee host countries remain the biggest hurdles to overcome.

Practical steps to match refugees with remote jobs

Remote work has the potential to change the narrative of employment for refugees. It can provide a viable pathway to enable refugees to benefit from a dignified, formal workplace. Matching refugees to innovative and open remote-first employers is becoming easier in the post-pandemic era. 

These are just a few specific, practical steps that can create equal, inclusive access for refugees in the remote work industry.  

  • Encouraging and incentivizing refugee-hosting countries to build adequate legal frameworks
  • Portraying a win-win narrative around including refugees in the remote work sector
  • Facilitating cooperation between refugee-hosting governments, NGOs, other agencies, and the private sector
  • Supporting established training programs of refugee talent 
  • Creating simple, frictionless experiences to match remote-first employers with refugee talent

Remote work presents an immense opportunity to democratize employment. 

Global populations can compete on an equal footing for paid jobs that were previously centered in big cities. Remote work means job opportunities are no longer dependent on passports and immigration status. 

Now is the time for our community to take maximum advantage of the remote-work era and make remote work for good.

Helpful resources for employers and refugees

We also want to highlight some of the amazing organizations that have been providing resources for refugees, including training, job placement, and advocacy:

1. Free employer of record (EOR) services for all hired refugees

  • Remote for Refugees makes it easy and cost effective for businesses to invest in refugee talent. Remote now offers FREE employer of record (EOR) services for all hired refugees who reside in countries where we have an entity. If you are hiring refugee talent, talk to our team and learn more about our program.
  • This offer is available for all refugee talent who can show documentation of their refugee status and have the right to work or a work permit in their host country. As long as the refugee has the legal right to work, we can employ them in any country where we have an entity. Check our Country Explorer for our live countries and projected launches.

2. Refugee training for remote work

  • Na'amal partners with leading organizations around the world to match highly skilled refugees to remote employment. They support refugees and other underrepresented communities , by providing skills training and mentorship. You can contact Lorraine’s team at naamal@naamal.org to find skilled refugee talent.

3. How to find refugee talent or refugee-seeking employers

  • FlexJobs, the best job site for remote, work-from-home, and flexible job opportunities since 2007. Offers are available for authorized refugee organizations or governments supporting refugees. Please contact Julie at julie@flexjobs.com and mention this initiative.
  • Jobs for Humanity connects refugees, displaced individuals, and asylum seekers with employers across the world. 
  • Talent Beyond Boundaries is facilitating skilled migration pathways for refugees.
  • Tent is mobilizing the business community to improve the lives and livelihoods of over 30 million refugees forcibly displaced from their home countries.

Lorraine Charles is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Na'amal. She is also Research Associate for the Centre for Business Research, University of Cambridge and  Co-Lead of the Digital Skills and Digital Work project at the Centre for the Study of Global Human Movement, University of Cambridge