At the beginning of this tumultuous 2020, the global count of those forcibly displaced by conflict and violence, persecution and human rights violations had increased to a record high of affecting 79.5 million individuals, a population roughly the size of the entire German population. About one-third of them have become refugees.
Although the United States has historically led the world in resettled refugees, recent years have seen dramatic decreases in refugee admission caps. Nearly 85,000 of these displaced citizens were admitted in 2016. That number was cut in 2018 to 45,000 and slashed to 18,000 for 2020. The country currently settles less than one percent of the globe’s displaced people.
The pandemic has heightened the need to care for displaced populations. In August, Ben & Jerry’s spoke against the actions of the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, who attempted to prevent refugees from crossing the English Channel.
The U.K. branch of the ice cream brand tweeted, “Hey @PritiPatel we think the real crisis is our lack of humanity for people fleeing war, climate change and torture. People wouldn't make dangerous journeys if they had any other choice. The U.K. hasn't resettled any refugees since March, but wars and violence continue.”
Ben & Jerry’s represents just one example of how business is stepping up to advocate for refugees. Championing, especially hiring, refugees benefits businesses and energizes the national economy.
The downward trend of refugee acceptance in the U.S. carries with it an implication that immigrants don’t benefit the country - a claim that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Brookings Institute highlights some ways immigrants contribute to this country, two of which are becoming productive members of a community, often in ways complementary to the native workforce, and successfully engaging in entrepreneurship.
A 2017 study from the bipartisan immigration research and advocacy organization New American Economy revealed that refugee entrepreneurship exceeds that of other groups, including other immigrants and the native-born population. In 2015, 13 percent of refugees were entrepreneurs; that’s 1.5 percent higher than non-refugee immigrants and four percent higher than the U.S. born population.
Employers that make the effort to integrate these new citizens into their workforce see higher retention rates in that group of employees than overall, found a study from The New Humanitarian. The study also uncovered how managers learn and grow as refugees are invited to the fold — they become more capable of accommodating the needs of a diverse workforce, gaining open-mindedness and making adjustments like adding flexible time off.
“We’ve had more success looking for character attributes – drive, ambition, integrity – and then training people with those attributes to learn the skills we need,” noted one employer from the study. When that’s the way you approach hiring, “then you can look at anyone,” he said.
Another glimmer of hope in the American landscape comes from the nonprofit We Hire Refugees, which now partners with Atlanta-based refugee-focused staffing agency Amplio Recruiting to increase business support for refugee-centered state and federal policies. Amplio Recruiting reaches to the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth regions in Texas as well. The partnership elevates We Hire Refugees’ mission to inspire businesses to use their expertise, networks and capital to assist, and especially, hire refugees. The nonprofit has a Welcome Pledge for businesses to sign in support of that purpose.
“Refugees are hard working, loyal colleagues,” Sam Pardue of Indow, a window insert manufacturer in Portland, Oregon, who helped create We Hire Refugees, said in a press statement. “Admitting refugees helps people in desperate need and will help us rebuild a robust economy. We need to be letting in more refugees, not fewer.”
Companies like Chobani have already been going out of their way to hire refugees. Founder Hamdi Ulukaya (shown above) has said the best not only businesses but nations can do with increasing refugee populations is to create jobs for them. For his own part, Ulukaya actively recruits immigrants, including refugees, and pays them a living wage.
There is so much more businesses can do. A 2019 study by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security found that refugees could contribute an additional $3.2 billion to the U.S. GDP if they were extended the same employment opportunities and wages as native-born Americans. These billions of dollars represent a growth opportunity for the U.S. as a whole, as well as a chance for every single business to step to the plate and step up its bottom line.
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.