Employing refugees: What HR managers need to know

Asylum seekers have the potential to make a positive difference to many organisations, with HR urged to embrace their unique skill set and life experiences.

Employing refugees: What HR managers need to know
The much-debated and occasionally fraught issue of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia is among the nation’s most pressing social questions. It is inevitable, therefore, that it will impact many who work in HR and recruitment, as refugees go about seeking work in an already highly competitive employment market.

There are a number of ways that HR managers can smoothen both the recruitment process and workplace environment for refugees, in order to take advantage of the wide range of skills and experience such employees may offer, according to Angela Keefe, employment manager at the Asylum Seekers Centre (ASC) in Sydney.

The ASC works with individuals seeking asylum who have not yet been granted permanent refugee status. However, Keefe says the Centre’s employment candidates all have full working rights on their Bridging visas while their cases are being reviewed.

“Sydney employers of any real size are quite accustomed to hiring employees from all over the globe, and our employees are no different,” Keefe told HC Online. The ASC has partnerships with approximately 60 Sydney businesses, including Lush Cosmetics and St Vincent’s Private Hospital.

Keefe points to a number of unique qualities that refugees can bring to an organisation – both professional and personal.
“People seeking asylum who work with our employment team bring a wealth of experience, language skills and diverse perspectives to any business,” she said. “About 70 percent of our candidates have tertiary professional qualifications and they all bring a preferential spirit and resilience from their lived experiences.

“As people await the resources and opportunity to transfer their qualifications, they can add a real depth of experience to their sector. For example, St Vincent’s has employed overseas doctors as ward persons with great success.”
Keefe says that the ASC provides candidates with “training in the culture and expectations of the Australian workplace” and supports employers for a minimum of three months after the placement.

HR departments should be aware, however, of certain legal and administrative obligations – though these are hardly unfamiliar to HR professionals, nor demanding any additional bureaucracy or procedure.
“Businesses employing candidates from the ASC’s Employment Service need to be aware of the Commonwealth requirement that, while employing a person on a Bridging visa, the employer must verify work rights every 90 days. This is a simple online verification procedure that most HR departments are already familiar with.”

Keefe concludes that the reality of employing asylum seekers offers nothing particularly distinctive in the modern workplace, and is simply another dimension in an ever-diversifying society and employment market.
“We find that people seeking asylum usually reflect the same diversity that is the norm in Sydney,” said Keefe. “We have the most success with businesses that value attitude and are willing to offer some level of training for new hires.”


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