Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, 4.3 million people have fled the country, with the number likely to grow as the conflict escalates. The British business community has mobilised to offer jobs to the refugees.
To date, some 65,000 Ukrainians have applied for visas through the UK Home Office’s Ukraine Family and Ukraine Sponsorship Schemes. But as of 31 March, less than half (29,200) of these visa requests have been issued.
There has been pressure on the British government to make it easier to hire refugees, with Marks & Spencer, Asos and recruiter Robert Walters among an initial group of 45 large firms to contact the Home Office.
A spokesperson for Asos says the fashion brand has already hired several refugees and is continuing to offer employment opportunities for Ukrainians, particularly in tech and engineering roles, due to the country’s highly skilled IT workforce. “They have been left with no choice but to leave their country and we stand ready to help,” the spokesperson says. “We will work with the government and charities through any necessary practicalities.”
Several organisations are helping to connect refugees with employment opportunities. One such start-up is Jobs for Ukraine, set up by Valeriia Voshchevska, Nikita Logachev and Severija Bielskyte. The job listings website was created in the space of three days and had 61,000 visitors in its first week.
“We saw lots of different people on LinkedIn posting job opportunities for people fleeing the war in Ukraine,” Bielskyte says. “We thought it would be great to bring all these opportunities together and list them on a single site, instead of having to look through various different social media channels.”
The trio have reached out to recruiters and companies, encouraging them to not only advertise jobs on the site but to consider providing assistance and support to those fleeing the war. “That support could come in the form of providing visa sponsorship, accommodation support or even paying for flights,” Bielskyte says.
Even simple things can make a big difference, such as guaranteeing a quick turnaround of applicants or offering the first month’s salary in advance. “These people are already in the most uncertain and scary situations of their life,” adds Bielskyte. Such actions as giving them certainty on when they’ll hear back “can really make a big difference”.
Assisting with relocation should also be a priority for any business employing refugees. “If you do decide to hire someone from Ukraine, then you should think about the support your team is going to provide them to relocate,” Bielskyte says. “These people have left their whole lives behind and I’m sure that for many, money will be tight at the moment.”
Clipper, a logistics partner of Asos, has provided free accommodation to refugees in Poland. The neighbouring state has so far taken in 2.5 million refugees, the largest number of any country.
If smaller businesses can’t afford to offer free accommodation, providing a starting bonus or paying for the first few weeks of rent could still be a generous and helpful gesture. Even putting people in touch with estate agents to help them find a home can be useful.
“If businesses can also help Ukrainians find temporary accommodation, this will make a huge difference,” says Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz, policy and public affairs manager for Praxis, a human rights charity supporting migrants and refugees. “The ability to access lots of things people will need – including a bank account, National Insurance number and registration with a GP – are made easier if someone has a proof of address, even if only a temporary one.”
Not all support has to be financial. “Our advice to businesses seeking to help Ukrainians is to refer them to solicitors and immigration advisers for expert, qualified legal advice on their immigration or asylum cases,” says Whitaker-Yilmaz.
Current immigration advice can be extremely complex to navigate, she says. The consequences of poor-quality advice can take years and thousands of pounds in legal fees to rectify.
While the large number of businesses offering jobs to refugees is positive, an integrated approach to support will help Ukrainian hires to settle quicker. Employers should consider any help that provides the extra support necessary for refugees to start rebuilding their lives. “Everyone wants to be independent, so the more that we can do to enable people to do that, the better,” says Bielskyte.