Refugee Employment: European Conversations and Innovations


Photo credit: @e5bakeshop

There is so much news swirling around about the Syrian refugee crisis.  It’s sometimes difficult to identify specifics that are immediately relevant to refugee employment.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review highlights European conversations about the same issues we discuss in our work. Topics you’ll recognize include foreign credential recognition, professional re-certification, adapting to new work place culture and long term support for language acquisition.

It’s worth a read, although some of the innovations it references are not completely replicable in the U.S. refugee resettlement context.

Here are four more innovations related to workforce skills and employment solutions we’ve spotted in the mix.  Many of them are initiated and led by the private sector.

  1. e5Bakehouse (Britain), a small bakery and coffee shop partners with a local nonprofit to employ refugee women in a fresh bread subscription delivery service, offering them marketable skills, income and inspiration for future career opportunities.
  2. Two aspiring online Universities in Germany, Wings and Kiron target refugee access to post-secondary education and language studies.
  3. (The Netherlands) offers coordination for home sharing options modeled after Airbnb.
  4. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will work with UNHCR to increase internet access in refugee camps.



Congolese Resettlement Success in Knoxville


Photo Credit: Saul Young

When it comes to the long-term integration of refugee families into US communities, the importance of volunteers and mentors cannot be overstated.

While resettlement agencies and employment programs do a great job at providing core services that help refugees become self-sufficient in the most basic sense, it can be difficult for refugees to know where to go from there.

Ongoing relationships with American families or career mentors can be a significant encouragement to new refugees, helping them feel more connected to their new community and more hopeful about their future.

For a moving example of what this can look like, check out this recent article published in the Knoxville News Sentinel about the relationship between a Congolese refugee family and an American family in Knoxville, TN. The article does a great job at showing the complimentary relationship that can exist between a refugee resettlement agency and local volunteers.

The article also provides helpful background on the history of the Congolese refugee crisis, the trauma that many of these refugees have faced, and the difficulties of family reunification when families are separated.

Higher has done several post in the past on both Congolese refugees and career mentoring. Explore these topics further and share your success stories with us at

How the Refugee Employment Network Can Help Syrians NOW

Tsyria-map-21he Obama administration will increase the number of refugees the United States is willing to accept in 2017 to 100,000, a significant increase over the current annual worldwide cap of 70,000. Under the plan, the limit on visas for refugees would be increased to 85,000 in 2016 from 70,000 now. Syrians would be among the beneficiaries.” Click here to read the NY Times report about yesterday’s announcement from Secretary of State John Kerry.

We’re all at the front line of the U.S. response to the growing global refugee crisis that includes Syrians, Eritreans, Rohingya and many more.  We’re already in the midst of a surge in arrivals, many of whom need our service to successfully enter the U.S. workforce with a strong foundation for future career laddering and community integration.

If you’re like me, you’re feeling like a potential super hero and a deer caught in the headlights.

You’ve got this.

Our commitment, creativity, employer partners and employment service delivery expertise are assets that make a difference in refugee lives every day. We have a proven track record of adjusting all of these assets to accommodate new client populations.

The current Syrian crisis is unique, but the need for flexible, culturally-appropriate service delivery is the same. The most important thing we can all do is focus on what we know works for our clients no matter their country of origin.

The crisis is still growing.  There are no easy answers and our work won’t be easy, either.  Here are three places to start:

  1. You’re already innovating in response to the arrivals surge.  Find out about some of the strategies others are using in a previous Higher blog post.  
  2. Capitalize on growing public awareness about the global refugee crisis to deepen and expand your network of employer partners. Employers want to respond to the crisis, but might not know how.  As always, you can offer them solutions. Hiring and integrating refugees into their workplaces now will expand opportunities for refugees – including Syrians – as arrivals increase.
  3. Conduct an objective assessment of your services, policies and processes.  Small adjustments or enhancement to case documentation protocols, intake and assessment processes, job readiness class curriculums and your own skills will all add up to increased efficiency and effectiveness for all of your clients now and going forward.   
What are you doing to prepare for increased arrivals and a new Syrian population?  How can Higher support you? Tell us at






Friday Feature: Khebez Dawle (Syrian)

Khebez DawleWhen their drummer was killed, the remaining members of Khebez Dawle (State Bread) fled Syria.  So far, they’ve passed through Lebanon and Turkey and are thinking about where next.

Read about their journey and hear music they were never allowed to perform in public in Syria.

(On occasional Fridays, we highlight one entertainment option related to our clients or some aspect of our work to help you celebrate the weekend and possibly recommend to employers and other community supporters in the following week.)

Cuba Update


Cubans working in the city of Trinidad

“El red Cubano” – the Cuban community grapevine –  is a powerful mechanism to spread information – real and imagined.

Continued high numbers of Cuban border crosser arrivals suggests worry about possible changes in parolee status and refugee benefit eligibility.

What’s really going on with U.S.-Cuban relations and what changes could be coming inside Cuba and here?  Read further for one official policy statement followed by two tidbits that could suggest larger changes for Cuba and the Cuban community in the U.S.

1.  Official Policy Statement Maintains the Status Quo – For Now

The U.S. State Department has provided a ‘limited interpretation of normalization’ of the U.S.’s diplomatic relationship with the Cuban Government.  Click here to read the entire Fact Sheet released on July 6.

“The Administration has no plans to alter current migration policy, including the Cuban Adjustment Act. The United States continues to support safe, legal and orderly migration from Cuba to the United States and the full implementation of the existing migration accords with Cuba.”

2.  Sending Money to Family in Cuba Still Complicates Achievement of Economic Self-Sufficiency

Previous relaxation of some sanction policies in 2009 ended limits on the amount of remittances to close relatives.  More recent changes increased the limit on remittances to any Cuban national for humanitarian needs from $500 to $2,000 per quarter.

The vast majority of our Cuban clients send money home to suport their family and friends, often at the expense of their own financial self-sufficiency.  For most recently resettled Cubans, their current salaries are a stricter limit on what they’re able to send home than policy limits.  Expansion could make them feel increased pressure to send more.

3.  Inside Cuba, Economic Opportunities Seem to be Expanding

Click here to read a fascinating article about Cuban internet entrepreneurs in Cuba.  Our Cuban clients are genius at understanding how to make the most of the opportunities they have.  They’re joyful, resourceful, creative and independent.

Our media often talks about a “socialist hangover” to describe a sense of entitlement and work ethic that looks different than expected in the U.S. job market. Many of us have heard Cubans share a common expression about work in Cuba.  “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”

As political and socio-economic changes continue in Cuba, it seems likely that socialist attitudes will, too.

Send any additional insight you can share about how ongoing changes are affecting our clients to



Experience Difficult Choices Along Syrian Journeys

syrianClick here for an interactive feature on the limited and difficult choices Syrians are forced to make when fleeing toward safety.

There’s so much information out there now.  It’s difficult to discern what it really means for Syrian safety and a timeframe for increased arrivals.  The numbers and need just keep growing.  The time required to process US arrivals with all of the critical security and processing steps can only be rushed so much.

What do you think?  What are you hearing?  Higher would appreciate hearing from you about information you can contribute or the type of posts that would be useful as we all prepare for increases in Syrian arrivals.  Comment on this post or email


Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Photo Credit: Giles Duley

Refugees by definition are among the most vulnerable people in the world.  Those facing additional physical disabilities face even more challenges. Treatment options are even less accessible in camp settings and mobility can be a challenge.

This video highlights some of the complications facing refugees with disabilities.  It also shows you every day life for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, where security concerns delay set up of the processing infrastructure required for eventual resettlement in the US.

The hope and resilience of everyone you’ll meet in the video will mirror what we see and admire every day in our clients.


A Different Take on Global Refugee Issues

Photo credit: Giorgio Perottino, Reuters

There is value in considering opinions that take you beyond your comfort zone.

A recent blog post forwarded by a Canadian-Nicaraguan reader raised questions and some feelings of discomfort for me.  Click here to hear from an alternative perspective.

In 2014, at least 40,000 Syrians crossed the Mediterranean to seek asylum in European countries via Italy. But approximately 35,000 Eritreans also made the voyage – a sharp increase from 10,000 in 2013.  

Higher welcomes comments about the opinion put forward in the linked article from, which “deliberately challenge(s) and destabilize(s) received wisdom about the African continent and its people in Western media.”

Peer Insight From Working With Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Because of security concerns, this post has been removed.  Apologies.  Here are three previous blog posts with other content related to Syrians.  Stay tuned for more.

Syrian Background from the Cultural Orientation Resource Center 

Friday Feature:  Ghosts of Aleppo (2014) 

Lessons from the Iraqi Refugee Experience for the Syrian Crisis 

Ebola, Fear of Immigrants and Potential Impact on African Refugees


Dominique Faget | AFP | Getty Images

It’s hard not to feel afraid as the first case of Ebola in the US and rapidly increasing deaths in several African countries are featured in our news.  As we continue to resettle large numbers of Congolese, employers and community members may express concerns about their health.

We should be prepared to discuss (hopefully unfounded) backlash fears with clients, even though many have been here long before the current Ebola outbreak and may not have been in an affected country.

Liberian refugees were resettled before many of us were involved in this work, but they may be among the populations who also worry about friends and family still resident in Africa.

Here are several articles to help you think about various aspects of this issue that might have a direct impact on some aspect of your work in the coming weeks.

If anyone has plans or experience helping to overcome unfounded concerns related to Ebola, Higher would appreciate hearing from you so that we can share experiences and help others prepare just in case.