Refugee-Centered Labor Mobility

RefugePoint Founder, Sasha Chanoff, recently presented at Expanding Global Refugee Labour Mobility: Implementing the Three-Year Strategy, hosted by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and UNHCR.

The title of Sasha’s talk was Refugee-Centered Labor Mobility

Sasha spoke about the importance of ensuring that this pathway to a new life is rooted first and foremost in the experiences and needs of refugees themselves. He also highlighted the concept of additionality — ensuring that any labor mobility slots are additional to, and do not erode or compromise, needs-based resettlement.

Below are Sasha’s edited remarks from this memorable discussion:

It has taken a village to get to this point when the first labor mobility candidates who were refugees living in Kenya have now arrived in Canada. I’m so pleased that Micheline, one of the first arrivals, will speak to us shortly. It was such a thrill to be on a Zoom call with her last week when she arrived at the airport in Halifax.

About RefugePoint

I want to share something about RefugePoint to start. We began 15 years ago to advance lasting solutions for at-risk refugees and to support the humanitarian community to do the same. We focus on resettlement and complementary pathways as one pillar of our work, and on self-reliance opportunities for refugees living in host countries as the second pillar.

We see ourselves as an innovator in the refugee response space. We use private funding to create new and dynamic programs, and once we see that they work, we aim to train and support other organizations to expand these opportunities.

Canadian government and RefugePoint

RefugePoint has a longstanding relationship with the Canadian government, helping refugees to resettle to Canada. We’re thrilled to build on and deepen that relationship with this labor mobility project.

Labor mobility and self-reliance: Conversations rooted in dignity

Labor mobility brings together our focus on self-reliance with our expertise in needs-based resettlement and protection. We’ve been working for many years to identify refugees for resettlement based on their vulnerabilities.

With labor mobility, we’ve had an important and refreshing insight. That is that when we start conversations with people based on their skills and experiences, we see them light up. After one of our interviews in Kenya, the person told us that this was the best day he’d had since he fled his home so many years earlier. It was the first time someone asked him about his strengths and skills.

These are conversations that are rooted in dignity, in recognizing the whole person, their strengths, and their experiences. It shifts the narrative from victimhood to human beings with agency and ability. And along with that shift, there is a sense of hope and enthusiasm that emerges.

RefugePoint decided to engage in labor mobility because we wanted to look at the connection between protection and durable solutions. We do more than linking a refugee with a job. We feel that this effort has to be underpinned by recognizing their diverse experiences and situations.

There are a number of points I want to share in this regard:

1: The importance of flexibility around requiring documentation: Many refugees forced to flee home don’t have time to grab a passport, or diploma, or job credentials. They shouldn’t be stopped or penalized for not having documentation.

2:  Recognizing different kinds of family composition: Labor mobility currently has strict criteria about family composition. This limits the applicant pool. There are many families, for example, who have taken in an unaccompanied or separated child. When we are screening and assessing candidates, we take into account what’s best for the entire family unit. Resettlement has built-in accommodations to allow for different kinds of family composition. Labor mobility should include the same sorts of considerations. Otherwise, employers are missing out on great candidates.

3:  Funds to support the process of integration: Refugees don’t have funds saved up. This is a challenge and a barrier. They need to be able to eat and pay for necessities in Canada before that first paycheck comes in.

4: Support services to help with integration upon arrival: This is critical for long-term success. And it pays off, because refugees, studies show, stay longer in jobs, and employers are regularly impressed with them. (A Tent Foundation study of employer experiences with refugees is particularly relevant.)

Leveling the playing field for refugees

If we’re serious about leveling the playing field to make labor mobility accessible for more refugees, and about getting more good candidates in front of employers, then we need to take the points I’ve made here into account.

The Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship made an announcement saying there would be some policy changes to address some of these concerns. We want to thank IRCC and the Minister for considering such changes and look forward to hearing more.

Labor mobility must be additional to resettlement

The last point I want to make about labor mobility is that it should be additional to resettlement. There is tremendous excitement for labor mobility, and for good reason, but we can’t let this compromise in any way the importance of resettlement for people who are in peril. We’re very pleased that the EMPP, in particular, is clearly in addition to Canada’s needs-based resettlement program, and we hope that future complementary pathways programs in Canada adhere to the same principle.

Imagining a future where communities compete to bring in refugees

A number of years ago, The UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner at the time, Alexander Aleinikoff, said something that captured my imagination: “Can we envision a world where cities compete to bring refugees in because they are so needed?”

Labor mobility is a pathway that can help to make that imagined future a reality. We can already see that future. It’s starting to happen. It’s one where refugees are included. And needed. Where their strengths and skills enable them to support themselves and contribute to their communities. It’s a win-win situation.

But as we move forward, let’s keep in mind that it must be done in a refugee-centered way. With their needs and interests and diverse experiences at heart, as primary considerations.

Thank you to the government of Canada and IRCC, UNHCR, Ed Shapiro and the Shapiro Family Foundation, Barrie Landry, Talent Beyond Boundaries, The Pictou County Regional Enterprise Network, Glen Haven, and everyone who has had a hand in getting us to this moment. 

It’s taken a great deal of imagination and hard work to get here. RefugePoint is honored and excited to celebrate this moment with you and to collectively imagine a better future that together we can make a reality.