Employment Factsheet

The facts

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work or to take part in vocational training while they are waiting for a decision on their asylum claim.

After a positive decision (Indefinite Leave to Remain, Leave to Enter/ Remain, Humanitarian Protection or Discretionary Leave), all people of working age are entitled to work.  While seeking work, refugees can access the same benefits as UK citizens, including Job-Seekers Allowance.  Those who are eligible for benefits and have been registered unemployed for six months or more are eligible for government-funded employment programmes.  See Benefits and Entitlements Factsheet for more information.

Potential issues and ways to work through them:

Understanding the application process

Refugees may find that applying for a job in the UK is an unfamiliar process.  Mentors and mentees could perhaps talk about the process of finding jobs in the mentee’s country of origin and together highlight differences and similarities with the UK.  If necessary, the pair could discuss and outline the various steps, from writing a CV to signing a contract.

Knowing where to look
Newspapers, the Internet, job agencies and refugee organisations are all excellent sources of information on vacancies.  Informal networks can also be effective so speak to friends and family about opportunities and use Skillbank to contact mentors and mentees who have been through a similar process.  Volunteering is a great way to build up links which are very useful in leading to paid employment too (see Volunteering Factsheet for more information).  There are also many organisations which specialise in supporting refugees into employment (see Contacts for more information).

Writing an effective CV
Helping write an effective CV is a very practical way for mentors to support their mentees.  Formal conventions such as the content and design of CVs in the UK may be different from the mentee’s country of origin.  As with all of us, mentees might also need support in identifying skills and experience and may need encouragement to “sell themselves”.
The internet is a great place to look for tips on writing a successful CV:

-   Most university websites contain good CV advice
-   www.workthing.com contains a section devoted to CV writing
-   http://jobsadvice.guardian.co.uk/ contains lots of information about writing CVs, applications and covering letters.

Etiquette and effective interviews
Again, each country has its own etiquette regarding interviews – for example, gifts might be normal practice or eye contact might be seen as confrontational in some refugees’ country of origin.  The pair could discuss the nature of interviews in the mentee’s country of origin and what they consider some of the key issues are in the UK (punctuality, formal dress, confidence etc).  If the mentee has already had interviews, discuss together what happened and identify areas for improvement. Practise interview techniques together or look into organisations which run training in this (see Contacts).  Time Together organises occasional workshops which include formal interviews with professionals in the field. Contact your coordinator if this is of interest.

Lack of skills or experience in the UK
English language and certain office skills could be a barrier to employment, whatever the mentee’s qualifications and experience.  Most refugees will already have access to ESOL courses but mentors could signpost them to additional classes or to courses looking at specific English language skills (contact your local colleges of further education or one of the organisations below).  Don’t forget that regular meetings are already a great opportunity to practise English together.  Targeted courses such as PRAXIS’ Skills for Life provide useful training and Time Together organises occasional workshops on Office Skills so contact your Co-ordinator.  Sometimes, refugees’ experience or qualifications are not recognized in the UK (see Requalification Factsheet) or employers may prefer candidates with experience of the UK working environment.  Volunteering and work placements are excellent ways to gain this experience and also to provide crucial references (see Volunteering Factsheet).

Finding a job that matches skills and experience
Many refugees are employed in positions well below their skills and experience. They face a number of barriers in accessing the jobs which match their skills and experience such as a lack of experience in a UK working environment and lack of recognition of their qualifications in the UK.  In addition, clients may feel under pressure from agencies to accept low-skilled or unqualified jobs and some refugees may prefer to earn money quickly rather than wait to retrain or requalify. 

Mentors should listen to their mentee’s priorities and try not to impose their own expectations on them.  At the same time, it is important to mentees if they are keen to seek employment suited to their skills and experience.  Training and requalification can be a long process (refugee doctors, for example, take on average 6 years to requalify) and in can be discouraging.  To help with this, the pair can work together to make sure the process is clearly understood. Mentors can encourage mentees and help with motivation by breaking down the requirements into manageable steps and providing regular encouragement. 
Also, see separate factsheets for information on the following professions:

Health professionals:  Requalification Factsheet
Academia: Further and Higher Education Factsheet

Misconceptions of employers
Unfortunately, many of the misconceptions about refugees in wider UK society also represent the attitudes of many employers. Mentees who are concerned about this can work with their mentors to identify strategies for combating this during interview. For example, mentees can focus on the skills and experience they have and practise talking about them with confidence.  Have a look at the Employability Forum website (details below) for information on the work being done to change the attitudes of employers.  

Useful Contacts
The Refugee Council
Provides careers advice and training courses for refugees and asylum seekers.
www.refugeecouncil.org.uk -

The Employability Forum
An independent umbrella organisation which promotes the skills and experience of refugees in the UK

Community Action Network
Works in partnership with other organisations, offers support to help refugees set up a business or social enterprise, or get training and support to find a job in the construction industry. 

Provides information, advice and guidance on education, training and employment for refugees

Refugee Assessment and Guidance Unit (RAGU)
Supports refugees with high level education or professional qualifications into employment and education.

Refugees Into Jobs
Provides a range of services to refugees in West London from advice and guidance through to the provision of grants for necessary training and support once in work.

Refugee Women’s Association
Provides advice and guidance on education, training and employment for refugee women.

Hospitality Match
Offers opportunities for refugees wanting support, training and advice on jobs in the hospitality industry.  Contact Time Together for more information.


Benefits and Entitlements , Employment Factsheet , English language Factsheet , Further and Higher Education , Requalification for Health Professionals Factsheet , Health Factsheet , Driving License Factsheet , Housing Factsheet , Citizenship Factsheet , IELTS Factsheet , Family Reunion Factsheet , Volunteering Factsheet