'It's complicated to hire refugees compliantly'

Oyster CEO has stepped up where the government has failed, or worse, looked the other way

'It's complicated to hire refugees compliantly'

As the Russia-Ukraine war rages on, millions and millions of Ukrainian citizens have been displaced.

More than 5.6 million refugees from Ukraine have traveled across Europe since February, according to the UN Refugee Agency. Meanwhile, more than 7 million people are estimated to be trapped inside the war-torn country. The crisis is near and dear to Tony Jamous’ heart – the Oyster CEO comes from Lebanon, which has the highest proportion of refugees anywhere in the world, stemming from the Syrian revolution more than a decade ago.

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“If you look at the employable population, refugees are the most underemployed,” Jamous told HRD. “They’re unbanked and have no possibility to work locally. While local government is unwilling to do anything about this, I felt Oyster can make a difference.”

Oyster, a global HR tech platform founded in January 2020, has launched Oyster For Refugees to remove barriers to job access for displaced talent. The program connects global employers with skilled talent that has been forced out of their country, providing economic and social stability to the refugees and diverse talent to the organizations.

Oyster for Refugees enables companies to hire individuals with work permits from more than 180 countries with high concentrations of displaced talent, including Poland, Turkey, Colombia, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Germany and Bangladesh. Oyster manages the full employment life cycle, including hiring, onboarding, pay and benefits at no cost. Companies can also utilize Oyster's refugee talent marketplace partner Niya.ai, an employment platform focused on diversity recruitment, at a discounted cost.

“There’s a demand today from responsible companies to employ this population with amazing talent, yet there’s friction in terms of hiring,” Jamous says. “It’s complicated to hire refugees compliantly. How can you send them an employment contract, how can you pay them without banks, etc.? Oyster removes the friction around hiring refugees. We find local partners, usually non-governmental organizations, who are able to disperse funds compliantly to an unbanked population, handling essentially the last mile of distribution of funds. Thus, the world becomes their oyster.”

Jamous has already witnessed his mission come to fruition. The first company he founded, San Francisco-based tech firm Nexmo Inc., was sold to Vonage Holdings Corp for $230 million in cash and stock, Fierce Telecom reported. Jamous had hired a Nigerian developer who stayed with the company for two years. He saw firsthand how a company can grow and merge with a public company, which inspired him to move back to Nigeria and a launch fintech startup, raising tens of millions of dollars in the process (Jamous is an investor).

“Traditionally, an immigrant leaves their home country to work in richer societies and send back anything from 5-10% of their income,” Jamous says. “This results in people like me having to desert our local economy and community in search of better opportunity. By adopting global hiring, you participate in increasing the investment in countries that are badly in need of hard currencies. Now people can stay back home and have access to these amazing opportunities and get 100% of their income.”

Hiring refugees is a win-win, Jamous argues. As companies pledge to increase their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, they can usher in talent from around the world, who in turn, bring their cultures, perspectives and skills to the workplace. Plus, companies (especially in the United States) are in dire need of fresh talent during the Great Resignation. About 4.3 million Americans quit their job in May, down slightly from April, March and February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means more than 70 million Americans have left their employers over the past year.

Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic to re-evaluate their priorities in life, employees have been leaving their positions for greener pastures, demanding higher salaries, better working conditions, improved work-life balance and more opportunities to advance their career.

“Oyster’s mission is to reduce unequal access to opportunity,” Jamous says. “We want to create a world where you don’t have to be in Silicon Valley, New York or London to participate in the global economy.”

At the same time, hiring refugees is a human capital opportunity. Jamous says that local jobs in emerging economies usually aren’t as exciting because the local environment for jobs isn’t focused on the development of individuals. Oyster aims to change that by connecting workers with employers determined to nurture their abilities.

“Great talent can be found anywhere,” Jamous says. “By hiring refugees, you make your company socially impactful.”

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