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The displaced talent scheme: helping refugees apply for UK work permits


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I am announcing that those displaced by conflict and violence will now also be able to benefit from access to our global points-based immigration system.

To enable skilled displaced people who have had to flee their homes to come to the UK safely and legally through established routes.

We will work with the charity Talent Beyond Boundaries and other partners on this pilot project.

[Priti Patel, 19 July 2021]

The announcement of the UK’s displaced talent mobility pilot is understandably generating interest in the immigration sector. The idea isn’t new but is unfamiliar in the UK, blending as it does humanitarian protection with more standard work permit policy.

Having been involved in the project for a while, I’m delighted that it is happening and thought it might be useful to reflect on what the pilot is — and, just as importantly, what it is not.

What is the displaced talent mobility pilot?

The scheme is designed to facilitate UK work permit applications by skilled refugees and displaced people from Jordan and Lebanon. The policy connection is clear: ministers had promised safe and legal routes for people in need, and this is a safe and legal way for those people to come to the UK.

That said, it is not a new form of refugee status. It is better understood as a tailored version of the Skilled Worker visa, to exist alongside the asylum system as a complementary pathway.

The precise details of the pilot are not yet known, but the broad structure should be familiar. As a starting point, we anticipate that:

  1. Displaced people will need a job offer from a licensed sponsor
  2. They will need to meet the usual minimum salary level
  3. The English language requirement must also be met
  4. The visa will last for five years and lead to settlement 
  5. It will be possible to change employers once in the UK
  6. Eligible family members will be able to come too

Crucially, the pilot is not aimed at lowering existing eligibility criteria. Rather, it recognises that the rigorous documentary requirements and administrative processes of the existing work permit rules can inadvertently discriminate against displaced people and that that discrimination needs to be removed.

We do that by identifying and addressing the barriers specific to this particular demographic through a tailored sub-category of the existing Skilled Worker route. The UK authorities have committed specific case work support to ease the application process and the stress associated with that.

Take the logistics around meeting the English language requirement: refugees cannot be expected to have degree certificates and transcripts readily available after fleeing their homes. Travel document requirements will need particular consideration as applicants naturally will not be able to avail themselves of their home governments for a domestic passport. The period during which applications to change employers can be submitted will need to be carefully thought through, as will the issue of “non-refoulment” in the event of someone later losing their visa.

All that said, the visa is just one piece of the puzzle. For the pilot to work, it must be employer driven.

How employers can hire refugees from abroad

First, employers must identify their preferred candidate. Businesses can find 26,000 highly qualified displaced people with skills in sectors such as health, digital technology, education, legal, construction, engineering (and more) in Talent Beyond Boundaries’ talent catalogue. More details on the catalogue and how to work with Talent Beyond Boundaries are available here.

We’ve seen a great deal of interest from employers even before the pilot was broadcast and are confident that this announcement will spark more. Whilst applications for shortage occupation roles (i.e. where there is insufficient domestic labour supply in the UK) will be prioritised, applications under all sponsorable routes are possible under the pilot.

Secondly, once that candidate is identified, Talent Beyond Boundaries and their partners such as the International Organization for Migration can help with the logistics of job interviews (which aren’t easy if your refugee camp only has intermittent electricity and WiFi.)

Thirdly, once the job offer has been made and accepted, Talent Beyond Boundaries work with the sponsoring employer and the applicant to prepare and file the visa application. The UK authorities will expedite the processing of the application, typically deciding them within five working days where feasible.

Once in the UK, applicants’ integration will be assisted through a network of supportive contacts including Reset.

Help without charity

Although charities will assist with the overall process, it is important to stress that this recruitment is not charitable. Potential applicants are very skilled, eminently qualified and with a wealth of experience, all of which means they have a huge amount to contribute to the UK economy. The pilot is aimed at enabling that contribution and normalising displaced talent mobility. This will establish ease of access to a whole new labour market for UK businesses, and help skilled displaced people rebuild their lives in a new home.

Both Australia and Canada are proof that pilots like that can work. Talent Beyond Boundaries and Fragomen are already working together to bring displaced talent into those countries, lifting applicants and their families out of poverty whilst growing the domestic economies.

The fact that the UK is joining their number with a new complementary pathway is a positive step that will hopefully encourage other countries to do the same.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Gemma Hyslop

Gemma Hyslop is a Manager and Solicitor in Fragomen’s London office, where she has worked for almost eight years. She is also UK immigration advisor to Talent Beyond Boundaries. Prior to joining Fragomen, Gemma worked at a boutique law firm with an emphasis on family and European law applications, and spent time with a legal aid charity assisting with asylum and human rights-based applications and appeals.