Yesterday we published our interview with Gideon Maltz, executive director of Tent—an organization dedicated to aiding the men, women, and children of the world who have been forcibly displaced from their home countries. Today we’ll explore some of the common issues with refugees, and how to address them.
HR Daily Advisor: In most cases, is language a barrier to success at U.S. companies?
Maltz: Some refugees are already proficient in English when they arrive in the United States. For those who are not, language can pose some challenges during the recruitment process and in the early stages of employment, but it need not be a barrier to success at U.S. companies. In the recruitment process, refugee resettlement agencies are able to assist with interpretation and paperwork completion for initial screening and interviews, and refugees can have their credential documents translated into English. For refugees on the job, employers have found it useful to designate a bilingual “Team Lead” to serve as an interpreter; to host on-site “English as a Second Language” courses; and to educate other employees on how to ease communication barriers—speaking more slowly, rather than more loudly, avoiding idiomatic language, and asking clarifying questions rather than yes/no questions. With these modest investments, refugees can be very productive employees in most sectors.
HR Daily Advisor: What impact do cultural differences from refugees have in the workplaces that hire them?
Maltz: Cultural differences may require employers to make certain accommodations—for example, Muslim employees may need to take varying break times for daily prayers or Bhutanese employees may need several days off in order to attend funerals, which are a week long in Bhutanese culture. Differing communication styles due to cultural differences may also pose minor challenges in the workplace. Eye contact, for example, is not practiced in all cultures. At the same time, cultural differences can be a significant asset—helping companies serve diverse customers and better positioning companies to navigate new markets overseas. There’s also a growing body of evidence that a workforce with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences contributes to the development of new ideas and fosters innovation.
HR Daily Advisor: Are there incentives for hiring refugees?
Maltz: While there are certain government incentives in place, what’s really important are the clear business incentives. Beyond the benefit of bringing highly motivated and loyal employees into the workforce, there is also added value to a company’s brand. Hiring refugees demonstrates leadership and that a company is living its values. Increasingly, consumers are expecting businesses to be more than producers of goods and services, but to also create a positive impact on their communities. Additionally, Deloitte has reported that the majority of Millennials in the United States want to work for businesses that allow them to engage in “good causes.” Hiring refugees could attract a stronger pool of candidates and develop loyalty among customers.
HR Daily Advisor: What is something that most people don’t know about refugees?
Maltz: Refugees have to pass intense background, security, and medical screenings administered by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the FBI, and others, over a period of 2 years on average, with candidates excluded on any hint of suspicion. As the U.S. Department of State notes, “refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.”
HR Daily Advisor: What is something you wish every employer knew about refugees?
Maltz: Employers should know that refugees are highly motivated to rebuild their lives. They will work hard and contribute a great deal to your company, and there are numerous organizations that can help companies at every step of the way.
HR Daily Advisor: Any last thoughts?
Maltz: With refugee resettlement at its lowest level in many years, this might strike some as an odd moment to release this guidebook. But here’s what I’d say: first, even with significant cuts, over 29,000 refugees entered the United States in 2017—that’s about 22,000 individuals of working age. Second, the United States has a long-standing, bipartisan tradition of welcoming refugees to the country, and I’m confident we’ll return to that in due course. Third, businesses have a vital role to play in stepping up and welcoming refugees—now more than ever.