Employing Refugees in Your Organization

Employing Refugees in Your Organization

Kylie Bayer-Fertterer, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District (LinkedIn) and (Twitter)

What I’m doing: Training my puppy to walk on a leash and to not act like a fool when we clip his nails.

What I’m reading: The Dinner, it’s terrible, don’t read it.

What I’m watching: Season 2 of Queer Eye. I have to watch it with a box of Kleenex, can you believe?


I’m a day early in this post. The United Nation’s World Refugee Day is tomorrow, June 20. Refugee Day is a day to honor the achievements, resiliency, and contributions of the refugee community. Often times this day involves protests, film screenings, and petitions to the government in support of refugee programs. As local government employers there is something we can do too: hire them.

It’s a tight labor market and many local governments are struggling to fill their open positions; at the same time many local government employers are looking to diversify their workforce to reflect their communities. Local governments should look to partner with immigrant and refugee organizations to build pathways to employment for folks who are new to our cities and counties.

There are many positives associated with hiring refugees. These job seekers are extensively vetted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security so it is basically guaranteed they will pass background checks and drug screenings. That same vetting also ensures they have the appropriate documentation to work in the country so the I-9 process should be smooth (check a bullet below for more on the I-9 process.) Refugees receive a variety of support services to help them acculturate to the United States, often times they receive job training and classes to learn English so they’re ready to work.

Private sector companies like Starbucks and WeWork are making public commitments to hiring more refugee workers. These companies recognize the value that refugees bring to the workforce and have programs in place to reach more refugees seeking employment. I urge you to look into developing a program of your own to help your organization hire more refugees.

Here are some tips to help you along in the process:

  • Find an immigrant/refugee advocacy organization in your community and reach out to them to learn about their job training programs. They may have workers at the ready.
  • Review the I-9 documentation procedures and familiarize yourself with all forms of acceptable documentation. Refugees likely do not have a passport or other common form of ID and work authorization documents. Remember, ANYTHING that fulfills the requirements of the I-9 is acceptable.
  • Review your religious accommodation processes and ensure your managers know how to begin the interactive process to accommodate refugees with religious customs.
  • Refugees may still be learning English. Be mindful of your language and avoid slang and idioms.
  • Review your education and experience guidelines to ensure that education from another country will be acceptable.
  • Ensure refugees have adequate training to do the job. Review your new employee orientation process so new employees feel welcome and know the expectations of a job.
  • Determine the level of English proficiency required to be successful in a given job.

There are many non profits that provide other tips on hiring refugees and welcoming newcomers to your organization:

Happy Hiring!