The business case for hiring refugees: How far does your search for talent go?


Did you know? Ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to financially outperform the national industry median, according to research by McKinsey.


Volkswagen, Microsoft and L’Oreal, 3 CSR Europe members, have developed refugee recruitment programmes. At the same time, a European Business Coalition for Third Country National Employment is being set up by CSR Europe.


More businesses need to make an active effort to hire refugees, not just for corporate social responsibility (CSR) driven reasons, but also out of economic self-interest as well. In Europe, ‘investing one euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two euros in economic benefits within five years’, according to Philippe Legrain, former economic adviser to the president of the European Commission.


While governments and policymakers must play a more active role in this area, businesses need to do more, simply because it makes good business sense.


Good business sense? How?


Refugees and migrants bring a vast amount of benefits to the communities they live in and to the companies that hire them. The positive social impact of gaining employment (economic independence, quality of life, integration) alone is a strong argument for businesses to hire refugees and migrants, but they are potential assets to the company too. Here are three main reasons why:

  1. Strengthen your brand image by demonstrating that your company is living its values. Showcase yourself as a company that is doing its part to help with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and earn goodwill from governments AND consumers.[1]
  2. Attract, retain and motivate employees. Enrich your workplace with new ideas and perspectives; a more diverse workforce tends to boost creativity and innovation and can help tap new markets both domestically and abroad. Employers in the U.S. report that refugees remain employed with their companies for longer periods of time than typical U.S. employees, according to Tent Foundation.
  3. Overcome your skills shortages. Refugees are an overlooked pool of talent; they are often skilled, motivated and resilient individuals. High-skilled refugees can fill skills shortages, while less-skilled newcomers can fill jobs that locals no longer want to do.

Overlooking these benefits means overlooking valuable opportunities. The question then should not be “Is there potential for labour market integration of refugees?” Rather it should be “How can we make the best of the existing potential?”.


So, what is the cost of hiring refugees, and what are the quick wins?


Recruiting refugees involves financial costs, but this investment tends to yield a return quickly. In Germany, for instance, hiring and training a refugee costs 40% more than recruiting a local worker. However, the payback period for the initial investment is typically only a year due to government subsidies and increased productivity, as calculated by Boston Consulting Group. Refugees have a huge amount to contribute to the society that welcomes them and to the organisations that employ them.


Hiring refugees requires investment in early intervention measures, such as language training, social and cultural integration, and identification of skills and qualification. These can be achieved through tailored mentoring programs. Hiring refugees also involves a shift in the mindset of your companies’ CSR strategy that needs to be integrated into your business model. Matching people’s skills to the required job postings or requirements, for instance, is not as simple. However, following small changes to your hiring strategy may serve as quick wins:


  • Strengthen your hiring practices by adapting your job postings. Most jobs are found through existing networks or online, which don’t tend to reach refugees. Work together with employment agencies to increase your potential reach to those who would not otherwise find your vacancy. Also consider phrasing your job advertisements to be more inclusive by encouraging applicants from diverse backgrounds.

Here’s a great example by L’Oreal of a disclaimer at the bottom of a job posting:

  • Focus on competencies. When it comes to recruiting, qualifications aren’t everything – what really counts is a candidates’ ability to learn and perform well. Using this approach can open up your business to competent employees and is beneficial for creating both an inclusive and motivated workforce.
  • Consider internships, apprenticeships, or work placements. Providing on-the-job training is a good way to assess the competencies of a potential new employee and develop their skills according to your business. Another potential solution is to provide job shadowing before and during employment.


How are other companies doing this, and what are their experiences?


Volkswagen Group and its employees support refugees in many different ways. Currently they give priority to German language acquisition, which is key to becoming integrated into the German workforce. “Projects range from Audi’s classes in which refugees can earn a school diploma to scholarships offered by the Volkswagen Group. From an internship program at Volkswagen Passenger Cars to the language course “Deutsch 360°” at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. Porsche’s “integration year” to MAN’s internships that can lead to full-time employment”.


Microsoft, on the other hand, made an agreement with UN agencies to fund national consultations on job creation in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey for communities affected by the Syria Crisis. The agreement came in response to a report authored by UNDP, WFP and ILO titled ‘Jobs make the difference’ – the report offers a key evidence base for Microsoft’s consultations. In partnership with Mercy Corps, they are also supporting the development of a 12-month program to deliver training, counseling and psycho-social support to 10.000 refugee and migrant youth to enhance their social and emotional well-being, learning and employability.


L’Oreal’s refugee recruitment program, 'Interngration', has been giving highly skilled refugees from all over the world the opportunity of a six-month internship with L’Oréal, in partnership with the One Young World projectLeticia Novak, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at L’Oreal in France attended CSR Europe’s SDG Round Table at the Brussels SDG Summit in May 2018. She made a strong case for providing on-the-job training. The company offers a paid internship, as well as job-shadowing from employers, and provides refugees with a 3-hour window during work hours to receive language training. This allows refugees to fully integrate into the workplace and overcome the challenges of culture and expectations. What's more, highly successful interns have the opportunity to join L’Oreal as a full-time employee upon completion of their internship.


Get involved!


Join the European Business Coalition for Third Country National Employment: An EU model for Private Sector Engagement. CSR Europe is forming a European Business Coalition in collaboration with IOM - the United Nations Migration Agency, which will roll out a two-year project (2019-2020) to mobilise and support businesses in integrating refugees and migrants into the labour market in Belgium, France, Italy and the Netherlands.


CSR Europe presents a project that is a first of a kind at a Pan European level that will help magnify the best practices at national level and come up with solutions and policy proposals on how to tackle this very important issue for the EU. The project proposal is both ambitious and has the right elements to drive major impact.


Each local pilot project foresees the formation of local multi-stakeholder platforms to connect, streamline and build on existing initiatives and tools and to support the roll-out of the following activities:

  • Skills assessment to identify the upskilling needs of refugees;
  • Capacity building training events for employers on employing refugees;
  • Joint mentoring program for refugees run by company employees;
  • Work-placement training program and certification scheme.

Interested to learn more about the initiative? Contact Soni Kanabar (


[1] Make the pledge! Join the European Commission’s ‘Employers together for integration’ initiative. Employers together for integration gives visibility to what employers are doing to support the integration of refugees and other migrants into the labour market.


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