Reframing refugees: New approach boosts economies

Tarek Mulla was a software engineer in Syria before war forced him to flee to Lebanon. He was 25 years old and, like many refugees, he struggled to find work. But with the help of a new program from Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), Tarek has found a job in Melbourne, Australia. This year he became the first refugee candidate to relocate through the initiative.

The world now has 25.9 million refugees, who are often viewed as threat or burden to their host countries

"There's an image of refugees, that they are needy, dependent,” says TBB co-founder Bruce Cohen. “So one of the barriers we are overcoming is showing that there are refugees who are educated, talented, skilled, add value, can contribute—have contributed and will contribute again."

TBB work to change the way refugees are seen and give them a chance for labor migration. They have found success particularly in rural Australia and Canada.

"Labor mobility is a new solution for refugees,” says Cohen. “If countries will make their economic migration pathways more flexible and accessible to refugees we have found that there are companies that are more than willing to hire refugees because they need the talent."

In Germany, a recent study found that better integrating refugees has allowed skilled labor gaps to be filled and the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) released research that revealed that EU immigration boosted Germany’s GDP growth by an average of 0.2 percent every year between 2011 and 2016.

“Without immigration from the rest of the EU, Germany’s GDP would have grown by 1.2 percent instead of 1.5 percent in 2015,” says DIW researcher Marius Clemens. “EU immigration has made—and continues to make—a considerable contribution to the economy.”

In northern suburbs of Chicago, USA, refugee resettlement groups have also seen benefits.

“In the last ten years there has been a boom to that part of the city because there are refugees from all over the world living there,” says Suzanne Akhras, from the Syrian Community Network. “Iraqis, Somalis, Bhutanese, Vietnamese—so that area is very diverse, and doing very well now…all these businesses [are] booming."

One of the biggest hurdles of labor migration is the paperwork of visa applications, with many refugees struggling to prove their identity, evidence of funds, and qualifications.

"The barrier—often unintended barriers—administrative barriers in the way that governments have designed their visa processes have to be changed," says Cohen.

"These movements are a way for us to demonstrate to these governments that this is worthwhile, make your pathways more flexible, think about who you could include and bring to add value to economic development."