This section focuses on strategies to support resettled refugees to secure economic self-reliance through employment and training. It should be read in conjunction with the section on age, gender, and diversity.


When establishing a new programme, think about:

  • identifying and developing partnerships with key public and private sector employment partners (e.g. job placement providers, employers, employer associations).
  • developing partnerships with education and training institutions.
  • making arrangements for individualised assessment and job placement (where possible through an existing provider).
  • incorporating information on employment conditions, services and processes in orientation.
  • placement options and policies which optimise employment opportunities.
  • developing short term professional and vocational training opportunities.
  • supports to complete formal education and training.
  • engaging the co-operation of local networks who might provide links to employment opportunities (e.g. business associations, voluntary organisations, trade unions, faith-based communities).

In the longer term, aim for:

  • strategies to ensure that job assessment and placement services are responsive to the specific needs of resettled refugees (e.g. language assistance, professional development and awareness raising among providers).
  • specialised job placement and support programmes and services for resettled refugees.
  • programmes for providing more intensive job search assistance and support to resettled refugees or strategies to promote their access to specialist programmes targeted to nationals experiencing similar difficulties.
  • strategies to support resettled refugees to have prior training, learning, qualifications and experience recognised.
  • strategies to address barriers to labour market participation (e.g. care responsibilities such as childcare, transportation).
  • programs to support resettled refugees to establish micro-economic enterprises or become self-employed also highlighting advantages and disadvantages;
  • strategies to facilitate access to the work force (e.g. industry-specific mentor programs; career advice, job application counselling or workshops);
  • measures and policies to promote inclusion of refugees in the workplace and prevent discrimination;
  • engaging trade unions, employers, job placement services and the refugee and wider communities in initiatives to promote refugee employment;
  • strategies and programmes for job advancement and retraining including recognition and accreditation of previous qualifications.

Factors affecting economic self-reliance

Economic self-reliance is one of the most important factors in successful integration. As well as providing the means for economic stability, employment has a powerful influence on the capacity to participate equally in the receiving society and develop of friendships and social support networks. It may also be an important factor for refugees when applying for family reunification, for example in countries where a minimum income level is a prerequisite. The workplace provides a focus for learning about the culture and practices of the receiving society. Providing day-to-day opportunities for communicating in the language of that society, it also assists with language learning.

Being able to realise personal potential in the labour market is a significant factor in successful integration. In some countries specific steps are taken to support refugees to either resume their former careers or to retrain for work commensurate with their skills and aspirations (e.g. through the provision of mentoring programmes, training subsidies and social support payments to enable participation in retraining). In others, however, this remains the responsibility of the individual refugee.

Factors affecting economic self-reliance

The workplace is a primary avenue through which refugees can contribute to the economy and broader social fabric of the receiving country. Measures to ensure that refugees gain access to employment are an integral element of an integration program. Ideally, these should aim to ensure that refugees are able to compete with nationals for jobs which are both commensurate with their skills and experience and through which they are able to optimise their contribution to receiving countries.

While there is variability in the skills and attributes of refugees, there are a number of factors influencing their capacity to achieve economic self-reliance. Among these are:

  • proficiency in the target language;
  • their knowledge of and capacity to access recruitment and job placement services and processes;
  • the transferability of, and demand for, their skills in the labour market of the resettlement country;
  • the extent of disruption to education, training and employment resulting from displacement;
  • competing demands associated with integration tasks, adjustment to a new society and culture;
  • sociocultural and religious practices and the extent to which these are accommodated in the labour market and workplaces of the receiving society;

Bread on Shelves

  • their access to the resources required to support work force participation, among them childcare, transportation or driver’s licence, and ‘tools-of-trade’ (e.g. in some receiving countries, tradespeople may be expected to supply their own toolbox);
  • their access to resources for self-employment such as loans and knowledge of the business sector in the receiving society;
  • their motivation and openness to exploring new employment possibilities, making it essential that resettled refugees are fully involved in and have ownership of the employment search process.

Also influential are conditions in receiving countries, including:

  • attitudes toward, and experience of, employing people from other countries;
  • a refugee’s familiarity with the recruitment process (e.g., online applications);
  • economic conditions, with refugees tending to experience particular difficulty competing in the labour market in countries where unemployment rates are high among nationals;    
  • regulation of expert professions in the resettlement country will impact whether refugees can gain employment in their field;    
  • whether refugees are able to have qualifications and experience gained in countries-of-origin recognised in the resettlement country (certification/accreditation);
  • availability of language training, and if necessary further education and training in preparation for employment or advancement in the labour market. Some countries have an extensive national system for education and training and access is both free and universal or is promoted through loans, subsidies or scholarships. However in others,these systems are available only on a ‘user-pays’ basis;
  • existing infrastructure to support access to the labour market, such as national job placement networks and programs to support workers who face specific barriers;
  • expectations of refugee economic self-reliance and the availability of income support and safety net services for those who are outside of the labour market.
  • expectations of participation in language training programs;
  • the existence of legislative frameworks and programs to prevent discrimination against and exploitation of refugees.

Initiatives to promote and support economic self-reliance

Individualised assessment and job placement assistance

In order to access employment in receiving societies, resettled refugees will need to familiarise themselves with:
  • recruitment services and systems in place in the resettlement country.
  • labour market conditions and the demands for their skills within it. This may involve defining and interpreting their previous work experience and skills. For example, job titles are generally specific to a given labour market and may be misleading when transferred to another. Similarly, skills and experience acquired informally may not be recognised either by employers or refugees themselves.
  • education and training options.
  • processes for re-certification and accreditation.

A ‘refugee gap’ appears when comparing resettled refugees to other immigrants in terms of labour market integration. Analyses in multiple countries have shown that resettled refugees perform worse in measures of labour market integration in the short-term, even when controlling for differences in demographics such as age, education level, and level of host country language acquisition.

For further information, see: The Labour Market Integration of Resettled Refugees

Provision for individualised assessment and job placement in the early integration period is an integral component of a programme. Some resettlement countries have job placement programmes in place for nationals. Where this is the case, new arrivals may be linked with these services as part of the reception and orientation process.

However, in most of these countries, it is recognised that additional initiatives are required to ensure that these programmes are responsive to the needs of new arrivals. These include:

  • providing interpreting and translating services to support refugees to access job placement services and to participate in job search activity.
  • offering more intensive support to refugees in the early integration period. Refugees should be encouraged to be open minded and flexible with an emphasis on resilience. In some countries this is offered through existing programmes established for job seekers with specific needs. In others, special programmes have been established for refugees.
  • providing information and professional development programmes to job placement caseworkers;
  • recruiting bilingual staff to job placement services.
  • making provision for regular review of job placements in the early integration period to identify and address any problems experienced by refugees or their employers.

Recognition of academic and professional qualifications

Some refugees will have achieved very high degrees of education and high level professional and vocational qualifications (e.g. in nursing, engineering, commercial driving, or hairdressing). However, these skills may not be immediately transferable to the labour market of the resettlement country. Those who wish to do so may need to have professional or trade qualifications gained elsewhere re-certified or re-accredited in the receiving country before commencing practice.

Those wishing to resume tertiary or other post-secondary education or training will need to have prior learning formally evaluated by education or training authorities. There may be a number of barriers to this in resettlement countries:

  • In most countries, no single body is responsible for certifying credentials gained overseas. Rather, this is the responsibility of individual institutions, professional associations and trades. Accessing these systems may, therefore, be a complex undertaking for new arrivals.
  • Formalised processes for certification or accreditation of overseas trained professionals may not have been established for all trades and professions and/or there may be a limited understanding among relevant bodies of how to assess the qualifications and prior experience of overseas trained personnel.
  • In some professions, re-certification processes are very expensive, stringent and protracted, often involving a period of further study.
  • Refugees may not be in possession of documentation of qualifications and prior experience making it difficult to provide proof to employers and accrediting authorities.
In some countries specific steps are taken to support refugees to either resume their former careers or to retrain for work commensurate with their aptitude and aspirations (e.g. through the provision of mentoring programmes, training subsidies and social support payments to enable participation in retraining). In others, however, this remains the responsibility of the individual refugee. Enhancing refugees’ access to information on requirements and contact details for relevant trades and professions is key.

Recognising qualifications held by refugees – A guide for credential evaluators.

ENIC-NARIC’s digital platform is a joint initiative of the European Commission, the Council of Europe and UNESCO and provides information on current issues in international academic and professional mobility, and on procedures for the recognition of foreign qualifications. It has a dedicated section on supporting in the recognition  of qualifications held by refugees

Enhancing job readiness, job-search skills and resources

Refugees may require additional assistance in participating in job search activity and preparing for employment. Many will be unfamiliar with job search conventions in the resettlement country, such as those relating to the preparation of job applications or resumes and none or limited digital literacy, and to participation in job interviews.

Therefore, a number of countries offer refugees intensive programmes designed to orient them to the labour market and support them with job-search resources. Reference checks are often used to ensure candidates have the necessary experience and qualifications; resettled refugees may not be in a position to provide certification nor references. With networks and professional identity taking some time to build, resettled refugees may be at a significant disadvantage in this regard.

Promoting economic self-reliance through micro-economic enterprise

Micro-economic enterprise can provide an important alternative route to economic self-reliance for some new arrivals, in particular:

  • those who owned small businesses such as grocers, restaurants or beauty shops or derived income from small home-based enterprises, such as dressmaking in their countries-of-origin.
  • those whose skills are not readily transferable to the labour market of the receiving country (e.g. doctors, lawyers) or who may not fit well into more traditional jobs (e.g. artists).
  • women, since some small or home-based businesses may be more compatible with their childcare.

Those wishing to establish economic self-reliance through micro-economic enterprise will require information about programmes available to assist them. Some may require some support including with preparing a business plan; initial capital; information on market conditions; and an alternative source of income while the business is in its establishment phase. This should also include information on the risks and challenges (e.g., financial risks and legal requirements such as tax, compliance with regulations, etc.).

Video - Canada 

Several organizations and companies have turned to mentorship to help refugees successfully join the Canadian workforce. Last year, UNHCR, Jumpstart – Refugee Talent and the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) organized an event to highlight the positive role that mentors can play. 

Video - Australia

Self-employment: Ignite Small Business Start-ups (Ignite) is an initiative developed by Settlement Services International (SSI) to facilitate small business creation for refugees living in New South Wales. Ignite works with refugees who aim to establish a small business or expand an existing one. Business start-ups are achieved through providing clients with enterprise facilitation, business mentoring, access to interpreters and networks. The aim of the initiative is to allow the client to achieve a livelihood in an entrepreneurial area they are familiar with, and one which will allow them to support themselves and their families.

Video - UK

How World Jewish Relief's STEP Programme is helping Syrian refugees in the UK into employment.

Video - Denmark 

The Basic Integration Education (IGU) programme in Denmark aims to boost labor market integration through provision of a two-year vocational programme providing refugees with practical language training while creating a channel for inclusion in the labor market.

Match refugee talent with employers’ needs

Engaging employers is a vital strategy in promoting refugee self-reliance. As well as exercising control over recruitment, employers have a powerful influence over workplace conditions and culture, and in some industries may be in a position to support refugees with other resources such as language training, childcare and transportation.
Employers and human resources departments often lack the knowledge and support needed in navigating the rules and regulations in this area. As a result, employers may overestimate the restrictions and obstacles, and simply disregard applications of refugees.
Integration services in existing resettlement countries have sought to foster employer support and overcome potential employer reticence by encouraging employers to:

Match refugee talent with employers’ needs

  • showcase positive examples through testimonies of employers and refugees, and demonstrate how their specific skills have been used by companies.
  • gather employers’ experiences of how refugee employees have supported links to new customer bases or opened up new markets.
  • gather evidence on the experiences of employers in recruiting and working with refugee employees, and show what lessons can be drawn from these experiences.
  • explore options for collaboration with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to better achieve economies of scale in supporting refugee employment.
  • consider being a role model by communicating to other employers and to the public that there is a business case for hiring refugees.
  • active ‘marketing’ of the skills and attributes of refugees in general or of individual refugees, including, where necessary, information to counter erroneous views about refugees or particular refugee communities or to assist employers in accommodating cultural or religious practices.

For public authorities and employment services, possible actions are to:

  • lower the initial costs of hiring refugees where possible, including through temporary employment subsidies or tax breaks.
  • ensure that low-cost upskilling measures for refugees are available.
  • identify sectors that face or will face labour shortages in the future and outline how refugees can contribute to tackling these recruitment needs.
  • providing language assistance to employers to assist with initial induction and training.


Placement practices as tools for promoting employment

From time-to-time, countries of resettlement have offered resettled refugees placement in communities where unemployment rates are low or there is an unmet demand for labour in specific industries. In others resettled refugees have been offered financial and practical support to relocate from their initial placement site to communities where they have specific employment opportunities or where unemployment rates are lower.

While these are effective strategies for promoting economic self-sufficiency, it is important that they are considered in the context of community capacity to meet other integration goals.

Video - Matching algorithm

This is a computerized matching algorithm has been developed and tested that support placement decisions of refugees in geographic locations where they have higher chances of finding employment.

Addressing racism, discrimination and exploitation in the workplace

Stereotypes about refugees can be a hurdle to obtaining employment. Stereotyping can include hiring discrimination and negative attitudes towards refugees but also unconscious bias – stereotypes that people are not aware that they have but that they still unconsciously act upon. Thus, employers’ implicit biases can also negatively impact their recruitment decisions without their necessarily being aware of them.

Communicating with employers

See Tapping Potential: Guidelines to Help British Businesses Employ Refugees

While employers and job placement personnel may require some awareness of the past experiences of refugees, evidence from around the globe suggests that the single most compelling reason for hiring them is the valuable contribution they make to the workplace. Added, promotion of diversity and inclusion through hiring resettled refugees can also positively contribute to corporate social responsibility (CSR). As part of their corporate social responsibility, the private sector is also supporting refugees into employment using different approaches:

Video – Starbucks UK

Refugee inclusion guides and toolkits:

IKEA Refugee Inclusion Program Toolkit: Labour market integration program for refugees

Poor alternative employment prospects, language differences and lack of knowledge of their rights as workers may also make new refugee arrivals particularly vulnerable to exploitation by employers. Older refugees, women and refugees with disabilities may face the compounding effects of discrimination on the grounds of their age, gender and ability. In countries with a long history of culturally diverse migration there are legislative frameworks in place aimed at preventing discrimination and promoting equal opportunity in the workplace. Services established to support refugee integration have used this framework as a basis for both raising awareness among employers of their obligations to refugee applicants and workers and for advocating the rights of individual refugees.

The role of trade unions

Trade unions have an important role in protecting the rights of refugees; in promoting a hospitable environment in the workplace; and in ensuring that refugees have access to opportunities for employment, retraining and advancement. In many countries wages and conditions are generally better in unionised sections of the labour force.

Some unions may be difficult to engage, seeing refugees as competitors for scarce jobs and as potentially undermining hard won wages and conditions, by offering a cheaper or more compliant labour source. However, in many countries, they have been powerful integration partners, recognising the contribution refugees make not only to the work force and economy of the resettlement country, but also to the membership base.

The role of trade unions

For example, in response to the large number of newly arrived refugees, Sweden introduced a “Fast Track” initiative that was developed in close co-operation with trade unions and employer associations. The initiative aimed to speed up the labour market integration of refugees with work experience in occupations with shortages of employees, such as health care professionals and teachers. See also Why Swedish Design Brands Are Hiring Syrian Refugees.


In the Municipality of Fjell, the project ‘Right at Work’ programme enables refugees to combine work practices and language training. The result is better inclusion and better access to skilled labor for the municipality. ‘Right at Work’ in Fjell municipality helps immigrants with (i) higher education and (ii) learning Norwegian faster. Through participation in the programme immigrants become more visible in the local community, they develop a network and friends. All of this helps to make the way to a permanent job easier. The Centre of Competence on Rural Development (Distriktssenteret) is a government agency dedicated to strengthen rural municipalities and regions’ ability to develop communities. The Centre has published a Manual how to implement such projects in different municipalities.

In addition, IKEA Norway also provides language support as part of a bespoke program for refugees. IKEA initiatives in Norway.


Good practice features


Overall, a sound integration programme would: 

  • offer a programme for providing individualised assessment and job placement assistance for refugees which is sensitive to the specific needs of refugees.
  • have strategies to prevent discrimination against and promote equal employment opportunities.
  • offer support for refugees wishing to establish small businesses.
  • aim to support refugees to compete on an equal basis with nationals in the labour market and to advance in the labour market commensurate with their skills, experience and aptitude.
  • incorporate strategies to promote and support employment opportunities for diverse refugee groups, including refugee women, refugee youth and older refugees.

Specific programmes established to support refugee employment would: 

  • foster a partnership approach with resettled refugees to ensure that they play an active role in and have a sense of ownership of the job preparation and search process.
  • support resettled refugees to represent themselves to employers by assisting them to accurately assess their abilities and job possibilities.
  • provide language assistance and vocation specific language training.
  • engage employers and trade unions.
  • engage refugee communities in planning and implementation.
  • promote refugees as assets to employers in resettlement countries.
  • facilitate access or support to remove practical barriers (childcare, transport, tools of trade).
  • promote access to meaningful and sustainable employment.