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Exploring highly educated refugees’ potential as knowledge workers in contemporary Britain

Maria Psoinos (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

Equal Opportunities International

ISSN: 0261-0159

Article publication date: 13 November 2007




The purpose of this paper is to explore whether highly educated refugees have the potential to become active members of the UK knowledge economy and to identify what socio‐political factors are currently excluding/marginalising them.


The empirical work consists of semi‐structured interviews conducted with 15 highly educated refugees residing in the UK. The interviews, which contain theory‐driven and open‐ended questions, elicited how refugees themselves perceive their post‐migration experiences, and especially their employment experiences in the UK.


The participants do not perceive themselves as passive and incompetent, as they are often portrayed. They also claim that their exclusion/marginalisation from the UK economy is not due to any lack of qualifications and skills from their side, but due to ongoing discriminatory processes and to the long process of getting their qualifications validated.

Research limitations/implications

The use of a single method and a cross‐sectional design does not allow an understanding of whether and to what extent the findings apply to other disadvantaged populations, which could be clarified through a comparative, longitudinal study.

Practical implications

Highly educated refugees have the potential to become knowledge‐workers, but certain barriers they face suppress this potential. This is why future policies should continuously support refugee agencies and communities that play a vital role in refugees’ lives and work‐related adaptation and encourage the creation of new ones where they are most needed.


This research, by “giving voice” to the selected participants, reveals the existing contrast between highly educated refugees’ own perceptions and the negative socio‐political discourse surrounding them and highlights the contribution that this population can make to the UK knowledge economy.



Psoinos, M. (2007), "Exploring highly educated refugees’ potential as knowledge workers in contemporary Britain", Equal Opportunities International, Vol. 26 No. 8, pp. 834-852.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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