Worldwide, 70.8 million people have been displaced by war, conflict and persecution. Millions more are displaced by climate-related events. For reasons outside of their control, these individuals are forced to leave their homes in order to survive; these people are termed refugees and forced migrants.

But they are much more than these words – before outside forces changed their lives forever, many were doctors, business owners, teachers, chefs. They owned homes, had families, went to school and developed careers. They were staples of their communities. And they can still do all of these things, if given the opportunity.

Refugees International’s Impact

A Refugees International worker.

Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises.

For over 40 years, Refugees International has been at the frontline of refugee crises. Dedicated to quality, each year they conduct multiple field missions to assess the needs of those who have been displaced, whether it be food, water, education or more. Through their years of experience and hands-on approach, they have faced many hurdles when it comes to successfully resettling refugees. One of the largest barriers they’ve found is labor market access (LMA).

But what exactly is LMA?

It’s simply the right to seek employment and start a business. LMA is a right that many of us take for granted, but one that could change the lives of millions of people forever.

The problem: Labor market access
Most host countries restrict LMA to refugees and forced migrants, making it difficult for them to find formal work. This results in a number of negative effects: an increase in dependency on aid, turning to informal labor markets, and an increase in child labor and marriage.

There’s already increased pressure on humanitarian aid, as the gap between need and assistance continues to grow and the number of displaced people increases. Additional reliance on aid due to lack of LMA further inhibits its ability to help.

According to Refugees International, restrictions on LMA can create “a wide range of challenges and forgone benefits, including protection risks for those who turn to the informal economy, diminished economic productivity, lost tax revenues, lower incomes and living standards for refugees and forced migrants.”

Formal LMA allows people an opportunity to become employees or business owners – where they can not only help themselves, but also help support the economy of their host country. Positive impacts include increases in:

  • Labor supply.
  • Consumer spending to stimulate local markets.
  • Tax revenues.
  • Employment opportunities for both host countries and refugees.

And what does this mean for the refugee workers?

  • Higher income, leading to greater independence and decreased reliance on aid.
  • Greater workplace protection.
  • Greater security and stability.
  • Decreased rates of child labor and marriage.
  • A better standard of living.
  • Increased morale.

LMA is an all-around win for host countries and the refugees looking to make a new life for themselves and their families. But if it was that simple, we wouldn’t be writing this blog post.

Part of the solution: Research and involving the private sector 
Refugees International is working to navigate this problem. Together with the Center for Global Development, they research innovative programming and ideas to expand LMA to refugees and forced migrants. Their research is key in providing evidence of the economic and social benefits of access to these groups. From there, they’re able to give recommendations on how to move forward and support efforts to mobilize the private sector to champion this cause.

Ultimately, through this research, change is made. So, how can countries work LMA into their economic plans?

Staying involved at a local level
Venezuela is facing a refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions. Instability rooted in politics, human rights, economics and other issues has led to a mass exodus of the country’s people. Of the estimated 4.7 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela, more than 1.6 million have fled to Colombia.

Faced with an influx of refugees, Colombia has done something unexpected – it recognized what a lack of LMA does to refugees and host communities and the economic opportunity presented by this mass migration.

In response, Colombia has developed a special visa to allow Venezuelan migrants to work.

“We have regularized more than 700,000 Venezuelans in Colombia. We made a resolute decision to integrate migrants for three reasons: solidarity, reciprocity, and most importantly because it is an opportunity for Colombia,” said Felipe Munoz, advisor to the president of Colombia for the Colombian-Venezuelan border. “The Venezuelan population is younger, which gives us a demographic bonus and increases our GDP.”

In order to get local communities involved, the Colombian government has targeted the private sector with tax incentives along the border in the hopes of enticing them to invest in these areas. This would increase the number of jobs for both migrants and the host community.

Meanwhile, in Norway, a local-focused approach has seen success. There, responsibility for integration programs lies at the local level. Programs that have performed the best have seen double the rate of employment for refugees. Their success is rooted in understanding – the country and its municipalities recognize that the communities hosting refugees look to the success of integration programs to inform how they perceive refugees. If the programs fail, perceptions shift negatively, so they work to ensure that this doesn’t become reality.

In the workplace

Two women talking.

You may be reading this and asking yourself what you can do to help. As a business, you’re in a unique position to influence policy and to take action as an employer.

In previous blog posts, we’ve talked about the importance of an inclusive and diverse workforce. This is an important part of the conversation around inclusivity in the workplaces. Not only will you be tapping into a whole new talent pool, but different backgrounds bring different solutions to problems that come up. They bring new innovations, skill sets, knowledge and more that they can share with your team, enriching your office and expanding what you can offer your customers and partners.

We encourage you to join the conversation and reflect on the role you can play. What are your hiring practices around refugees and forced migrants? If you currently employ refugees and forced migrants, what suggestions can you share? What has been your biggest challenge in helping to increase LMA for refugees and forced migrants?

Learn more about working with Refugees International to increase LMA for refugees and forced migrants, and find data on how these hiring practices could be useful to your workplace.