Community Scoop

Good business sense and ethical: the case for employing refugees

nicola_2018-200x300Nicola Sutton

Chief Executive | English Language Partners New Zealand

While New Zealand’s welcome for refugees is warm, our nation’s employers are less inclusive when it comes to offering jobs to newcomers from other countries. With persistent reports of skills shortages by employers, and a government commitment to increasing New Zealand’s refugee quota to 1,500 people, it is timely to discuss employing refugees.

Philippe Legrain, international economist and commentator on migration, said during his recent speaking tour in New Zealand that getting refugees into work quickly should be a top priority as it fast tracks their integration and helps neutralise the claim they are a burden to society. New Zealand’s skill shortages could be relieved by skilled refugees filling skilled roles and the less-skilled filling jobs that locals are reluctant to do.

Legrain’s report on refugees says ‘As well as being good for society, working benefits refugees themselves. While they have suffered immensely, they typically do not want to be treated as victims or charity cases. They want to start rebuilding their lives and become self-reliant again. In addition to providing an income, work makes refugees feel valued and proud that they are giving something back. An entry-level job can also be a stepping stone to better things.’

We can help increase employment rates for refugees by: opening up access to training programmes, including English language learning; work placements and internships; wage subsidies; and support with finding work (taking into account the particular way New Zealand employers find staff).

English Language Partners’ centres around the country teach English to former refugees and migrants. We daily see the benefits as both employers of former refugees and as providers of English language programmes for the businesses we work with.  XLam, a timber manufacturing company in Nelson, is one example where 30% of their workforce are former refugees. They say their employees are loyal and hardworking and the company would not be as efficient without them. English Language Partners works with XLam to improve the language skills of their staff so they have the right English to communicate effectively and to function productively and safely. It is a win-win for the staff and the company.

So, next time you decide to recruit new staff, give some thought to broadening your recruitment to attract former refugees. The Red Cross has specialist refugee resettlement staff in all the government’s settlement locations: Auckland, Waikato, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill. Red Cross staff can connect you with appropriately skilled refugees.

For more about English language learning opportunities for your staff (most of them free of charge) visit


This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

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