Sarah Dubreuil is a dual-degree student at SAIS Europe and Sciences Po-Lille. She is currently an intern at Talent Beyond Boundaries, an organization headed by Sayre Nyce and founded by Mary Louise, Bruce Cohen and Gillian Sorensen.

Today, 1/7 of our planet’s inhabitants are on the move and this pattern is set to continue in coming years (International Organization for Migration 2015). Policies addressing migration have become a top priority for development organizations. For one, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 include migration and a goal to “maximize the natural desire of free movement by providing opportunities for those who seek to increase individual prosperity.” In a globalized and ultra-connected world, the SDGs call for an enhancement of labor rights and the promotion of “safe and secure working environment for all workers including migrants” (United Nations 2015). 

The rate and speed of displacement that we witness today in the Middle East, South America or Europe reflects the complexity of our times. Modern conflicts tear entire states and societies apart and civilians have increasingly become the first targets of a “dematerialized battlefield" (Gros 2006). The dynamics of globalization have dramatically increased the flows of worldwide economic transactions, the access to information and the use of new communication tools, like social media. These factors reflect our time’s striking openness to worldwide influences and mobility. Yet, when facing major on going humanitarian crises, our states and societies still hesitate on the attitude to adopt towards “people in need of international protection" (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 1967). In many cases, the obsolescence of our migration policies is clashing with current needs and reality.

Assisting and supporting refugees throughout the world is a moral duty and a responsibility of the international community. However, there is a need to go beyond evoking despair and injustice if we want to generate viable solutions for both refugees and recipient societies. When people picture the situation of refugees, they fail to see what lies underneath the suffering and the (often) illusionary struggle to obtain asylum: real people; not only victims. People with hopes, people with skills and talents, people harboring dreams that can create opportunities.

Scholars and academics focusing on displacement argue that migration is a mutually beneficial need. This is true: jobs need to be filled, skills are available out there and migration is a vector of innovation and cultural diversity. Some countries need, for instance, to support their welfare systems by mitigating their demographic imbalance and a large amount of OECD countries are facing a shortage of skilled healthcare workers.

The mass arrival of refugees and migrants on European shores last summer was a wake-up-call for governments failing to address on-going conflicts in which they are taking part. These conflicts are creating deadly environments for local populations. But the large number of refugees arriving in Europe is only the tip of the iceberg as more than four million Syrian refugees are currently gathered in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Today, these active recipient societies are facing major challenges, which makes advocating for a shared responsibility crucial.

The “refugee crisis” generates self-perpetuating obstacles: an extreme dependency and no legal access to job. The danger to our communities is twofold: the helplessness of refugees without permission to work increases communal tensions and puts substantial stress on local communities. Similarly, this situation endangers refugees’ lives by putting their basic livelihood and human dignity at risk. There is an urgent need for an effective integration policy addressing short-time solutions for populations in critical situations while providing long-term safety, stability and dynamism for host societies.

As a delegate from Greece suggested during the last International Dialogue on Migration, “general resettlement in a spirit of shared responsibility addressing the migration-development nexus” is a key priority (International Dialogue on Migration Workshop 2016). This global vision of migration has to be multidimensional but also multilateral: involving nations, international organizations, businesses and local communities. Civil societies’ role in shaping the world’s policies and inspiring new trends and dynamics is a crucial driver of this process.

Getting every stakeholder involved entails recognizing that addressing the refugee issue would bring more benefits and opportunities as long as we shift our paradigm. “Help refugees help themselves,” wrote Alexander Betts and Paul Collier in an article on enabling new working opportunities for refugees and recipient societies, like special economic zones with business incubators (Betts and Collier 2015). “Preference matching, humanitarian visas, creating enabling environments,” as described by Betts in a recent TED Talk in February, are an example of the tools we can use to connect refugees to employers and projects in need of development (Betts 2016). This possibility to connect people and foster adequate and efficient matches is called labor mobility and governments and businesses need to make it a part of development strategies. It does not only set up mutually-beneficial matches that enhance efficiency, but also represents a new pathway for legal migration and incredible hope for people at risk.

By providing working visas under the supervision of companies to future employees, it allows refugees to go beyond cumbersome and restricted asylum procedures. Labor mobility is also a way to provide equal treatment and opportunities to people that are under the international community’s protection within the framework of the law.

Some people may fear that such integration might threaten their labor markets or welfare systems and it is important to address these concerns. According to the OECD, the fiscal impact of migrants (that is, their contribution to welfare minus the amount of public services they consume per year) represented a positive +0.5% of GDP/year in 2013 (OECD 2013). Many other studies show that a balanced integration system does not pose a threat to our economies.[1] Imagine, then, what we could achieve if we could send people to host countries with the promise of employment, a luxury for many refugees who have been granted asylum today.

Labor mobility for refugees offers tremendous opportunities but also poses many challenges. These can be addressed. To ensure they are hiring the right candidate, some companies require background checks and skill certification. It is therefore the mission of relevant partners to provide future employers with the required information. Some EU and EEA countries already posses special organs that compare, assess and validate academic experience through equivalences, a task conducted in many National Academic Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) in the UK or France, for instance. To participate in a new working environment properly, refugees will also need to demonstrate adequate language skills. A process of language certification with local partners and assistance upon arrival in recipient countries can be coupled with direct integration, a combination that the Step-in-Jobs Swedish program is already promoting by uniting work and language studies.

Nevertheless, despite these efforts, many refugees might not meet current foreign recruitment’s preferences and dynamics. In many cases, local companies prefer hiring nationals and are suspicious of gaps in resumes.  The role of international and regional organizations in promoting labor mobility is, therefore, crucial. Through its Science4refugee program, the EU has set an example by promoting cultural diversity and progress, hiring asylum seekers with a background in science and technology. The potential of similar private sector initiatives is even more promising. For instance, the Mastercard foundation is currently investing in education for refugees originating from Sub-Saharan Africa hoping to encourage leadership and economic development in the region. As Luk N. Van Wassenhove and Otham Boufaied wrote in last October’s Harvard Business Review: “Business has learned how to design and operate lean and mean processes under tough global competition. Their processes are fast, visible, connected, and usually align many stakeholders. Thinking about the complex process of refugee integration the same way may just help us. People are generally good, willing, and motivated, but they cannot perform properly in a crooked process in which they are given few chances to really engage — which is true both for refugees and their potential employers“ (Wassenhove and Boufaied 2015).

Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) is a new organization aimed at “linking the labor market to a new talent pool.” During a trip to Jordan in February, a representative from TBB met with an Iraqi citizen who goes by Inleel. He has a degree in water and environmental engineering and is currently earning his masters in environmental and renewable energy in Jordan. Unfortunately, because of laws protecting Jordan’s job market, his status doesn’t allow him to work there. Abdulrahman, another Iraqi citizen that met with TBB in Jordan, expressed his desire to work abroad. "For us, it is wrong to have ambitions here. “Stay as you are,” they say. I think about leaving a lot. And I have tried to leave Jordan many times. But with Iraqi nationality, I could not get a visa. If there was a work opportunity for me to travel abroad to any country in the world where I have respect and human rights, of course I would go" (Talent Beyond Boundaries 2016).

Today, TBB is working on finalizing its talent data pool in the hopes of finding companies seeking qualified and motivated individuals like Inleel and Abdulrahman. This will require intense research, advocacy and funding, but the project is on its way to success. Donations for humanitarian crisis management are essential, but we can also promote alternative paths to assistance and development. We need to involve all stakeholders to push for a new paradigm of the humanitarian-development nexus.  We can combine our forces to set the stage for fitting matches and even greater opportunities. This will allow us to change our perceptions of refugees and finally see them for who they really are: resilient, powerful and strong-minded individuals ready to turn any opportunity into a new success story.


Below is a slideshow of portraits of refugees taken during Talent Beyond Boundaries' fact-finding mission to Jordan and Lebanon in February. These are their stories in their own words. 

[1] For further information on the matter see: Randy Capps and Michael Fix, Ten facts about U.S Refugee Resettlement, Migration Policy Institute, October 2015; Paul Scheffer, Immigrant Nations, Polity, 2011 and Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron & Meera Balarajan, Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future, Princeton University Press, 2012 . 


Betts, Alexander and Paul Collier. November/December 2015. "Help refugees help themselves, Let Displaced Syrians Join the Labor Market." Foreign Affairs.

Betts, Alexander. "Our refugee system is failing. Here’s how we can fix it." Filmed: February 2016. TED Talk video. Posted March 2016. 

OECD. 2013. "Chapitre 3 : L’impact fiscal de l’immigration dans les pays de l’OCDE." Perspectives des migrations internationales. p. 136.

Talent Beyond Boundaries. 2016. Testimonies of refugees. Facebook page.

UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. 2015.

UNHCR. 1967. Additional Protocol relating to the status of refugees.

Wassenhove, N. Van and Otham Boufaied. 5 October 2015. "Europe Can Find Better Ways to Get Refugees into Workforces." Harvard Business Review.

PHOTO CREDIT: "A Young Man from Kobani (Syria) at the Turkish Frontier" by Jordi Bernabeu is licensed under Creative Commons BY-CC 2.0. All images in slideshow were taken by Talent Beyond Boundaries and are displayed on their Facebook page.