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Dear Auden McKernan 

Thank you for your well-wishes and your feedback! Your emphasis on becoming a “known quantity” through “stable communication” with both HR departments and refugees makes good sense, and is a strategy that our team will certainly work to employ. We’ve built many relationships in the early phases of our project – turning these into lasting relationships or partnerships will be a critical piece of our work upcoming.

All best,


It became clear to the team that only through the practice of matching candidates with jobs and applying for economic visas could we generate genuine learnings about and potential solutions to the barriers -- practical, administrative, legal – that keep refugees from accessing labor mobility opportunities. It was also clear that it was only with these genuine learnings that we could be effective or credible advocates or consultants to governments and help them better understand where systemic barriers lie.

We are wholeheartedly in agreement with you that to change the landscape in a way that is lasting, we need to showcase to / work with governments to develop systems to effectively link qualified refugees with employment in such a way that benefits refugees, companies, and destination communities, while also helping government fulfill international humanitarian obligations.

We also firmly believe that we cannot be credible in such a role unless we ourselves observe first-hand how the systems we currently have fall short of this goal; unless we ourselves can see where barriers that may not exist on paper exist in practice; unless we ourselves understand the viewpoints, roles, and challenges of the many diverse actors whose work intersects with this complex issue.

As you note, the work we are doing to match candidates with jobs, to facilitate their international migration, and to identify and collaborate with the partners that will ensure their success is resource-intensive. We believe that the impact of these resources spent on individual candidates goes far beyond the outcomes of that individual or family. The learning generated in the process of working with these candidates creates the foundation for the systemic change that is our broader goal. The work we do with individual candidates generates an invaluable evidence-base needed to make informed recommendations to governments, multilateral organizations, partner organizations, and others who have a role to play in changing the systems that affect not just a few hundred, but potentially tens of thousands of refugees around the world.

We are active participants in the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), and have used this platform to engage in negotiations for the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), and also to showcase to governments the potential of a program like ours as a solution to talent demands as well as displacement. As the international community shifts its focus to implementing commitments made in the GCM, we think we will be uniquely well-positioned to share with governments and others what we have learned about facilitating labor mobility for refugees, and assist them in implementing their own programs.

We would welcome your feedback on how we might identify the appropriate balance between practice and higher-level engagement. Looking to the future, we believe this work will remain mutually reinforcing. Maintaining a program gives our work with governments credibility and relevance; working with governments supports our program and, more importantly, helps governments alter their own systems in such a way that they may eventually obviate the need for our program. As we move forward, what tactics might you use to determine what the appropriate scale for the program side of our work?

We’ve added in the attachments to our submission a discussion paper we’ve shared with our close collaborators within the Canadian immigration department. It’s intended as an example of the kind of learning we have generated so far in our work with candidates, and how we’ve gone about translating that into recommendations for systemic change.

Thank you again, Matthias, for your time and your expertise. Participating in the challenge has been a great experience and we’re grateful to have been able to exchange with you!


Dear Matthias, thank you for this very thoughtful feedback. We’re grateful for the care and seriousness you’ve brought to thinking about the major questions and challenges our organization faces in creating systemic and lasting change for displaced people, and also grateful that you landed right on some of the fundamental questions we are engaging as an organization. Your point on focusing on the “highest-leverage systemic intervention” to overcome barriers to labor migration is well-taken; we’d love to share with you some background on how we are engaging in this work, and invite your further feedback. We will also revise our submission with your insight in mind to better reflect our work to tackle this problem “from the inside out”.

From the outset, our goal has been to identify and overcome the barriers that keep refugees from moving on the basis of their skills. These “barriers” can vary in scope from the profound to the mundane. In the earliest stages of the project, we identified two barriers of large scale:

1) if there are refugees with employable skills living in host countries, international companies do not know it, and do not have a method to access it.
2) Either economic migration pathways are accessible to refugees but not being taken advantage of in a systematic way, or they are inaccessible to refugees.

Our goal was to respond to both of these barriers in such a way that is not going to create a solution for just a small number while leaving the fundamental challenges in place, but is rather aimed at tackling these barriers in a lasting way.

On the first challenge, we found there was profound skepticism as to whether or not there were skilled refugees living in host countries, and a belief that those with globally relevant skillsets had certainly found their way out of border countries in the earliest years of conflict. Our goal was not to demonstrate that there were a handful of candidates who could be matched with jobs, but rather that there was a veritable pool of people with skills and professional experiences to offer who found themselves now largely cut off from the global economy; that there is a population that, if made visible, can and should be part of a global talent solutions. Rather than starting with a few individuals and matching them to jobs, we created the largest talent-mapping of its kind, capturing information from 10,000+ refugees in a format that is relevant to and accessible by global employers. This Talent Catalog is a critical tool for making this talent visible not only to employers, but also provincial/regional/local and federal governments who, not unlike companies, have talent acquisition and retention goals and needs. The Talent Catalog has built a persuasive case to several governments and companies to date that taking advantage of international refugee talent is an opportunity heretofore overlooked; the lessons we learned in building and deploying this Talent Catalog are ones we are sharing broadly with partner organizations and governments.

The second challenge was also a large-scale barrier; what was most notable about it was how difficult it proved to be to find clear answers. Early on we worked with teams of lawyers to analyze of skilled migration pathways globally, specifically with a goal to determine what challenges refugees would face in accessing those pathways. We consulted multilateral organizations, governments, civil society organizations, scholars, research institutions, refugees, and everyone in between to get input on which economic visa systems were accessible to refugees, and, for those that weren’t accessible, what the barriers were that rendered them inaccessible.

We ran into the same challenge again and again as we dug into our research: nobody knew what barriers refugees faced to accessing specific economic pathways because nobody had tried it. Even governments who were supportive in theory of facilitating labor mobility for refugees had no clear sense of what this would require in practice. There were high-level analyses of what barriers people might theoretically face. These, like an MPI report “Protection through Mobility: Opening Labor and Study Migration Channels to Refugees” often concluded: “The obstacles preventing refugees from moving as labor migrants or as students are not insurmountable; they are mostly of a practical rather than legal nature. A great deal could be achieved by more effectively linking qualified refugees with existing opportunities for movement…”

(cont'd in additional reply!)