Employing a refugee

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Cultural differences and extraordinary situations

Assistance in finding candidates
Many questions will be the same for all candidates during a job application. However, a refugee speaks a different language and has grown up in a different culture. As such, there are additional questions you can ask to align both parties’ expectations as well as possible. Specify that this information is intended to create mutual understanding and help each other. The following are examples of questions you can ask:

  • What kind of education or work did you do in your country of origin?
  • What do you hope to get out of this work, and how can we help you?
  • Where do you currently live, and with whom? Are you currently aware of any moves in the future?
  • Are you learning the Dutch language, and how well do you speak Dutch now?
  • How is your civic integration going? What civic integration obligations do you have in addition to work?

Do you have experience with other work or volunteer work in the Netherlands?

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Cultural differences
Employers should be aware of the many cultural differences that the Netherlands has compared to the country where the refugee comes from. Adapting to a new culture can be difficult. This does not necessarily mean that every cultural difference must be accepted. Some common topics where cultural differences occur:

  • Punctuality - the Dutch are usually punctual; this may be different in other countries.
  • Directness - the Dutch are often very direct in their communication; this can sometimes come across as insensitive to others.
  • Individualism and independence - the Dutch differ from more collectivist cultures in this regard.
  • Structure - in the Netherlands, people work with a lot of structure and fixed working hours; this may be different in other countries.
  • Nonverbal communication - there are big differences in nonverbal communication in different cultures. For example, a thumbs up is a positive gesture in the Netherlands, while it is equivalent to the middle finger in Iran or Afghanistan.
  • Contact with colleagues - the Dutch keep work and private life more separate than many other cultures.
  • Performance reviews - these are very normal in the Netherlands but can be perceived as negative feedback in other cultures.
  • Role of religion - in the Netherlands, the role of religion is much smaller than in other cultures.
  • The role of honour and loss of face - this is not a big topic in the Netherlands, but it may be important in other cultures.
  • Sexuality - the Dutch are very open about sexuality compared to other countries.
  • Male-female relationship - the Dutch have an equal male-female relationship.

It is good to make cultural differences known and open for discussion to enable your employees to help newcomers. For example, follow the “Cultural Sensitivity in the Workplace” eLearning programme by VluchtelingenWerk Nederland (https://elearning.vluchtelingenwerk.nl/interculturele-communicatie-cultuursensitief-werken/#/) or contact them to organise a workshop on “Refugees in the Workplace”.

Language barriers
Language barriers frequently occur when people from different countries work together. Again, this can be overcome with the right approach. We see roughly two forms of language barriers:

  • Low literacy: in some situations, people cannot read and write or have difficulty doing so. A distinction is made between several refugee literacy profiles. Based on these profiles, you can estimate which approach is best. For more information, visit https://rm.coe.int/tool-15-taalondersteuning-bieden-aan-laaggeletterde-vluchtelingen-taal/1680761f3d.
  • Mastery of the Dutch or English language: sometimes, a language barrier exists due to poor mastery of the Dutch or English language. A refugee’s profile on RefugeeWork will state which language(s) they are proficient in and at what level. We use the CEFR levels for this. The CEFR levels start at “no mastery” and then run from A1 to A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. For more information, visit https://www.eur.nl/onderwijs/t...).

Relocation is a process by which refugees are transferred to a reception centre in another municipality. This is mainly a risk for asylum seekers and is relatively rare for asylum permit holders (after being assigned to a municipality). However, a temporary residence permit may not be renewed, in which case an asylum permit holder must leave the Netherlands. Keep a close eye on the validity of the residence permit.

Providing good guidance

The first year can be difficult for refugees. Good guidance in the workplace can help, and intensive guidance is often required, especially early on. This includes both job-related guidance and assistance with integration in the workplace. The level of guidance required depends on the refugee’s occupation and abilities.

You must offer guidance and monitoring for a work experience placement or internship. A refugee with an employment contract has the same rights and obligations as anyone else, and there is no formal obligation to provide guidance. However, the chances of success are much greater when proper attention is paid to training and guidance for a refugee.

The following can be considered when devising a guidance plan:

  • Extensive training period
  • Assignment of a buddy within the company
  • Clear and regular communication and feedback times
  • Weekly or biweekly meetings
  • Clear points of contact in the company for practical and other matters

Refugees who get a job often have to arrange many things with various agencies, such as insurance, municipal affairs and schooling or childcare. All of this takes a lot of time and can be complicated. Help from the employer or colleagues here would certainly be appreciated.

There are also third parties who can support new employee(s). If there is no possibility or capacity to help people intensively, you can contact a person or authority who has the capacity, such as VluchtelingenWerk Nederland or the municipal authority. VluchtelingenWerk Nederland can provide employment coaches to accompany refugees through individual coaching and, in some cases, support the employer.

Eight tips for hiring refugees

1. Adjust your recruitment process
It may be difficult to reach the target group of job-seeking refugees. Specialised nonprofit institutions or municipal authorities can help. RefugeeWork is a platform that brings together employers and motivated job-seeking refugees. RefugeeWork offers insight into a refugee’s skills and can use this to facilitate an ideal match.

2. Be clear about expectations
It is important to discuss both parties’ expectations well, especially early on. This helps avoid misunderstandings. Provide refugees with clear information about workplace policies and practices. Understand that it takes time to adjust to a new culture.

3. Overcome language barriers
Removing language barriers is important for proper integration. It can take time for someone to master the language. Provide practical ways to support the learning process, such as appointing a language buddy, and offer the refugee sufficient flexibility to attend language classes.

4. Invest in guidance and support
The chance of success is much greater when proper attention is paid to training and guidance for a refugee. For example, invest in special coaching or in-service training. Appointing a mentor or “buddy” is often a good idea to help the refugee and engage other employees.

5. Involve your staff and management
Your involvement as a company is important in creating support for hiring refugees. This makes social integration easier and ensures mutual understanding. One way you can do this is by training employees to support refugees.

6. Apply a zero-tolerance policy to discrimination
Promoting a professional, respectful workplace means there should be no place for discrimination and harassment. This should go without saying, but it still occurs in practice. It is important that all employees commit to the zero-tolerance policy.

7. Be patient and watch for vulnerabilities
Be patient and understanding of the refugee’s situation. A refugee has been through a difficult time, and integrating into a new country also takes a lot of energy. It is important to talk to them and take their personal circumstances into account.

8. Work together
You do not need to do everything on your own. Especially for SMEs, it can be useful to cooperate with other companies that hire refugees. Share experiences and learn from each other. Ask for support where needed, such as from the municipal authority, VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, or one of the many initiatives specialising in refugee integration.