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Progress towards the promise of labour mobility for refugees: Talent Beyond Boundaries

By Malcolm Spence, Investment Director, and Kathi Hanifnia, Investment Associate  |   Posted 30th November 2020

In 2017, GIF awarded a pilot grant of $229,332 to Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) to catalyse labour mobility solutions for refugees. As the grant comes to an end, we are excited to share some of great the progress made, and results achieved.

The innovation

Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) seeks to demonstrate that employers can use the hidden refugee talent pool as a resource to fill global skill gaps.

There are 25.4 million refugees globally today. The international refugee regime, largely unchanged since World War II, provides resettlement solutions based on vulnerability, relying on humanitarian commitments alone. In a protracted crisis, such as the Syrian one, repatriation is not an available option for refugees, and only few are ultimately resettled to third countries. Many remain in camps or as urban displaced and, given severe limitations to their rights and opportunities to work, depend on donors or the informal economy. This state of play perpetuates a narrative of refuges as a costly burden.

Meanwhile, large skills gaps around the world exist that will cost the global economy $8.452 trillion in lost revenue by 2030, with shortages especially acute in rural communities that need workers to keep local industries afloat. Countries around the globe use economic visas to bring in skilled workers to fill critical gaps, but several practical barriers, including lack of formal documentation and security concerns, make it difficult for refugees to access existing visa regimes.

TBB’s innovation is a labour mobility model for refugees as an alternative solution to humanitarian resettlement. They provide an end-to-end process for refuges: collecting information on their latent skills and storing these in a Talent Catalog, reaching out to prospective employers in destination countries to assess their needs and suggest suitable candidates, supporting candidates to prepare and navigate the recruitment process, work with immigration authorities on necessary flexibilities in visa regimes to enable candidates to move, and support the migration as well as resettlement of refugees and their dependents.

This allows refugees to resettle based on their skills, and not vulnerability alone, leading to a transformative change to their incomes, whilst also making an economic contribution to the communities to which they move.

Progress and Achievements

With GIF’s grant support, TBB made impressive strides towards making labour mobility pathways a viable solution for displaced people. Overall, TBB facilitated job offers for 48 refugees in Lebanon and Jordan with employers in Australia, Canada, and the UK. To date, TBB has supported 18 of them together with their 28 dependants to relocate and take up these skilled jobs. The others will follow as soon as their visa process has been completed and COVID restrictions allow for travel.

Refugees supported by TBB have entered a variety of skilled jobs from tool and die makers to management consultants. Mohamed, a Syrian refugee, started work as a software developer in Canada and was visited by Prime Minister Trudeau in a show of support for the programme. Sofia, also a Syrian refugee, now works as an Executive Assistant with EY in Australia. Before relocating, Sofia ran a successful bookshop in Homs until the war forced her and her family to flee. Her husband left on a perilous journey to Germany to seek asylum but was unable to bring his family over. Finding a job through TBB was life-changing for Sofia, not only from a security and financial perspective, but also to finally reunite with her husband.

Key Results

TBB have delivered a wide spectrum of results underpinning the viability of the labour mobility pathway for refuges. Below we share a few highlights.

TBB have also made ripples in the global policy landscape. In 2018, TBB secured commitments in the Global Compact on Refugees and its three-year strategy, as well as the Global Compact on Migration that recognise labour mobility for refugees and vulnerable migrants as a priority for states around the world. This was followed by the release of a white paper, The Promise of Labour Mobility, produced with GIF funding and launched at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019.

TBB have been working closely with the governments of Canada and Australia to better understand the feasibility of labour mobility as a pathway, and with immigration authorities to seek the necessary flexibility to enable candidates to access existing visa regimes. Following successful completion of these initial pilots, Australia announced the establishment of a Skilled Refugee Pilot for 100 refugees and their families in February 2020, and, in June 2020, Canada committed to expand its Economic Mobility Pathways Project for up to 500 refugee applicants over the next two years. TBB will be actively working to resettle displaced people under both schemes. Meanwhile, alongside UNHCR and the IOM, TBB are also central to plans for a new Global Taskforce for Refugee Labour Mobility to further develop and promote labour mobility as an exciting innovation with the potential to greatly contribute to the alleviation of the refugee crisis.

For a short introduction to TBB and their labour mobility model you can also watch this video.