A new, simple visa lets you relocate colleagues from refugee situations. This World Refugee Day, start meeting them.

Abapi is a nurse who is relocating to Newfoundland and Labrador. She is pictured here with her niece. Photo by Will O’Hare.

Canada launched a new immigration pathway last week to help almost any hiring team recruit and relocate colleagues from refugee situations. 

This country has long understood the value of enabling groups of citizens to get involved in opening our communities to people in displacement. The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program has seen more than 300,000 people relocate over the years because of this impulse to take individual action in the face of global crises – like oppression in Afghanistan, war in Sudan, refugee camps that persist for decades, or tragic journeys like the fishing boat that capsized near Greece last week carrying as many as 750 people including kids.

Whatever compels us, our workplaces are a major new avenue for Canadians to take action.

The new immigration pathway falls under the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP), which opens some of Canada’s skilled visas to people in refugee situations as a complement to humanitarian programs. This unique pilot recognizes that someone can be both very talented and in a very tough situation.

Like a nurse from Afghanistan, who explained that his bachelor’s degree wasn’t as far as he wanted to go, but if you’re from his country your education just moves at a crawl. He had left Afghanistan once before, then returned, and now spoke with TalentLift from Pakistan while the Taliban are in power. It’s his second time seeking asylum, his second time on pause.

And an electrician from the Tigray region of Ethiopia, who asked quietly, “how long could a visa take?” He was in Kenya’s capital city unlawfully, instead of a refugee camp, so he could keep working. In Kenya, like many countries, it’s very difficult to legally work or to move freely if you’re seeking asylum. He was a contractor doing electrical wiring in commercial buildings in Ethiopia until a few months before.

And a young software developer, who left war in Syria for Turkey and then in February had to leave an earthquake area. But she brightened, almost giggling, to share how she kept learning to code.

The EMPP has been around since 2018 and has removed displacement-related barriers in some of Canada’s skilled visas, for example, no longer requiring valid passports or savings in a bank account. But change was slow and didn’t benefit all willing employers or qualified candidates. Fewer than 200 principal applicants have relocated. 

The new pathway is Canada’s answer to a scale challenge. It promises to accelerate hiring from refugee populations with a visa that is much simpler for employers. The new pathway opens up recruitment for any job, in any sector, in any part of the country outside Quebec, with no market test like the time-intensive Labour Market Impact Assessment, and with a single federal application. The visa takes six months to process, but that’s still fairly good for international recruitment.  

All this means that if you have a job vacancy, you can help a new colleague leave a refugee situation with their family. TalentLift can help you meet them.  

Think of the talent you can gain, and the impact you can have when a new colleague and their family relocate to join your team. 

Just don’t think about that developer in Turkey. Because we’re offering her a job with TalentLift. 

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.

Omar lands in Vancouver with ChainXY, a company that believes “everyone deserves opportunity”

Home is Palestine but Omar grew up in Lebanon. Like half a million other Palestinians in the same borders, he had refugee status and a limit on what he could do and achieve.

There are nearly 40 professions that Palestinians in Lebanon are legally unable to work in. They can’t own property. They often can’t get work permits or travel permission, or at least not easily. Many live in camps across Lebanon that the United Nations body charged with providing services there says are “characterized by overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to justice.”

Kids have a way of powering ahead. Omar did, soaking up the opportunities he could find, learning English and studying computer science at the American University of Science and Technology in Beirut and then fullstack development in an intensive program right after undergrad.

He found some good work opportunities in Lebanon, with an international company that ran a bike share app and another food delivery company, but he knew he needed to leave the country to reach his potential and to start building a future. A recent report put the number of Palestinians living in poverty in Lebanon at 93 per cent. That means almost everyone. Lebanese citizens too are struggling amidst a years-long economic and political crisis that saw inflation hit 171% last year.

Omar had a dream about moving to Canada – he doesn’t exactly know why, his twin brother pictured himself in the United Kingdom, but it was Canada for Omar. 

Meanwhile, the team at ChainXY in Vancouver was looking for data extraction developers. The Canadian tech firm curates location data that can help restaurants, retailers, real estate agents and others make good business decisions. An ideal developer to join the team would be someone with a rounded fullstack skillset and fluent with Python, JSON, HTML, C#, and React.

The team learned they might be able to find this skillset while making a big difference in someone’s life: They learned about the opportunity to recruit with TalentLift, searching a global talent pool of displaced job seekers, and gave it a shot.

“ChainXY has always prided itself on the diversity of its team. We value the unique perspective and skills that are brought from people of a diverse background. Hiring someone in refugee circumstances fit with our core values,” said Oszkar Breti, the team’s Chief Revenue Officer. He said it was an easy decision to try this hiring strategy. “We know that the skills and cultural viewpoints would bolster our team and help our business continue to grow.”

Omar’s CV was among the first to come across their desks from TalentLift and ChainXY set up an interview to meet him. The team remembers Omar’s curiosity from that interview – his questions about the company, the team, and the product.

He got the job. 

“The first thing that came into my mind is that I will leave Lebanon and I will get a better life,” Omar said. He would get to grow as a developer – through the work and professional development opportunities with his new team. He would also have a pathway to Canadian citizenship. In Lebanon, where he was born, Omar only ever felt like a foreigner. A chance to get citizenship in Canada “means I will become a normal human.”

He’s already a Vancouverite. Omar landed in a mild Vancouver in early February. This city of mountains over the skyline, oceanside trails, and people from every background is becoming home.

Why should other companies jump in? 

Every team faced with the challenge of finding talent locally can consider displaced peers. 

“This hiring initiative offers a unique chance to help a talented individual in need while simultaneously promoting diversity and inclusion in your work environment,” Oszkar said. It immensely broadens the talent pool to include displaced job seekers. For example, those registered with TalentLift are living in more than 100 countries globally. 

Omar added that refugee situations can lead people to develop, by necessity, wide-ranging skills and experiences. “This can help your company to be more creative, adaptable, and innovative.”

And, there’s the impact. Oszkar’s own family has roots in displacement, having immigrated to Canada when their homes became unsafe. He knows the scale of impact his team is having. 

“Everyone deserves opportunity and if one is in a position to offer it then I’d encourage a person, community, or company to extend it. One opportunity is all that is necessary to make a positive impact in the lives of individuals who have been discriminated against and displaced for being who they are.” – Oszkar Breti, Chief Revenue Officer, ChainXY

Oszkar (left) and Omar at the Vancouver International Airport in February.
Oszkar (left) and Omar at the Vancouver International Airport in February.

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

This international women’s day, meet your new colleague

Aya* is a fullstack developer. She studied communications engineering in undergrad in Syria and launched into front-end programming, and then back-end programming in the few years since, shadowing more senior developers through a bootcamp and in her own family. In the same period, she lived through a war and fled one. Now, she’s in southern Türkiye, and had to leave this new home briefly too after last month’s destructive earthquake. She’s someone who smiles easily, who listens, who you know right away is a lightning-quick thinker.

Some lucky team is going to meet this one and watch her do wonders.

We’re supporting teams across Canada to meet talented job-seekers like Aya. Teams get to bring on needed talent, and extend that job and relocation opportunity to someone in a refugee situation.

It’s a deeply impactful way to hire, and it can’t grow quickly enough. 

There are more than 100 million people living in refugee or displaced situations around the world, and about half of any displaced population are women and girls. They’re often living in countries where they don’t have basic rights. We work with women who can’t open bank accounts, send their kids to school, study, or lawfully work. And yet they find ways to keep going – to keep their skills current, to make a living, to reinvent themselves, sometimes all at once.

Here are just a few of these stars already joining teams and communities across Canada.

Dilruba is a healthcare professional from Afghanistan who told us her favourite thing in Canada is “everything.” She was midway through her nursing studies when she and her family had to leave the country to India for safety. She couldn’t study or work while living as a refugee but held onto the dream that she would one day. Last spring, she joined the team at a long-term care facility in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Dilruba is working again in her field, in a community that’s in acute need of her talent. 

Sisi graduated with a bachelor’s in nursing in her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before she had to leave for safety to Nigeria. There, she was able to keep working in healthcare but only informally, and without a secure path forward for herself or her career. Her next stop, however, is also St. John’s on Canada’s East Coast where she’ll be a Personal Care Attendant and work towards her Canadian nursing license.

Ranim is a music teacher. There are photos of her with children sitting at keyboards during a group lesson. Another photo shows her with one of her students, both smiling and giving a peace sign. She looks happy and the kids look at home with her. Ranim and her partner taught music together for eight years at their school in Homs, Syria, that they built, before it was ruined by bombing. They and their young son are now in a small town in Canada, and that music school is going to be rebuilt.

M. is a researcher who specialized in anthropology and archaeology in Afghanistan. She taught as an Assistant Professor before the Taliban took power in August 2021 and put an end to careers like hers. M. arrived in Canada in January to begin a new role, as a Research Assistant at McMaster University in Hamilton, under a remarkable initiative led by the university’s Committee on Students and Scholars in Crisis to relocate students and scholars from Afghanistan, Ukraine, and beyond.

These are some incredible women. And there are many other talented folks like them, across all skill sets, in need of opportunity. Start hiring with us and meet them. 

*Name changed for anonymity. 

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.

Researcher from Afghanistan relocates to join McMaster University

M.* is a researcher specialized in anthropology and archaeology in Afghanistan. Until the summer of 2021, she lectured undergraduates at Kabul University as an Assistant Professor. She and other staff and students were part of preserving culturally-significant sites like Gudri Mosque, and uncovering lessons from the past for contemporary urban design. 

She began a master’s program in women and gender studies to better understand the role of women in Afghanistan since the Stone Age, but she had to leave that too, in July 2022, when she crossed into Pakistan to save her life.

A generation of women raised with ambitions in science, education, politics, and social life have watched their country become something unrecognizable since the Taliban took power in August 2021.

The lights went out. Girls can’t go to school past grade six. Women can’t work outside the home nearly without exception. Faces must be covered. Travel alone isn’t allowed. Women who hold onto their rights, or are suspected to want to, can be killed. Last month, someone shot and killed Mursal Nabizada, a female member of Afghanistan’s parliament, in her home in Kabul. 

M. called herself a woman, a feminist, and an academic. But two months after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, M. said, “they destroyed my identity.”

She said that in recent decades, women in Afghanistan could dream. They could become engineers, doctors, professors, and entrepreneurs. They could drive, move freely, and represent their country in government. “That is gone now.”

A group of her peers at McMaster University want to help that dream stay intact.  

M. and her partner arrived in Canada in January, and this week she begins a new role as a Research Assistant at the university. 

The effort to relocate displaced researchers to Hamilton is led by McMaster University’s Committee on Students and Scholars in Crisis. The committee works with faculty in need of talented researchers and the wider university community to raise funds. The university has pledged $800,000 to help students and scholars at risk from Afghanistan, Ukraine, and other countries.

McMaster linked up with members of the Afghan-Canadian community like Marufa Shinwari, with Lisa Middlemiss, a lawyer at Gomberg Dalfen, and with the TalentLift team to support M. This group mapped out her recruitment, relocation, and arrival – a glimpse of the Canadian will to support talented people from Afghanistan and beyond. Our partners at Miles4Migrants unlocked the last leg of the trip, with donated air miles to fly M. and her partner from Pakistan to their new home.

M. becomes the first to arrive at the McMaster University campus under the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP), an immigration program that facilitates access by displaced applicants to Canada’s skilled visa pathways. The pilot opens a critical new mobility solution that complements other options like resettlement and is led by both the federal and provincial governments including the Province of Ontario. 

The McMaster community has a vision to grow these opportunities, through its new initiative to support students and scholars around the world whose lives are interrupted by conflict or persecution. Marufa Shinwari, a PhD student at McMaster and a key part of the network supporting M., has a message for them. “Keep fresh whatever dream or plan you have in your life,” she said. “[Your] journey will start again.”

*Name withheld to protect identity. 

Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

Scotiabank invests $950,000 in TalentLift’s mission to support displaced talent worldwide

Mohamad and his family arrive from displacement, greeted by the President of Alliance Store Fixtures, a manufacturer in Woodbridge.

A carpenter and his family arrived in Toronto to begin work with a furniture designer and manufacturer last week. They are from Syria and leave years spent living as refugees in Lebanon. This week, an archaeologist displaced from Afghanistan arrived for a research role, one she begins with a top university in Canada. A software developer is on his way to Vancouver next week, also from a refugee situation.

All have skills needed by teams in Canada, and all are able to use their talent to leave displacement and advance their careers in new home communities. 

These life-changing relocations are possible when people living as refugees have a fair shot at opportunity. And these opportunities are set to grow.

Scotiabank will invest $950,000 over three years in support of scaling the TalentLift talent platform to connect displaced job seekers with employers in Canada.

With earlier transformational funding from Scotiabank’s ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift launched a talent platform database that enables job seekers in refugee circumstances worldwide to connect with Canadian employers seeking to recruit and relocate talent, as a skills-based solution to their displacement. 

We’re tackling a long-standing, damaging hourglass problem: There are many thousands of talented people in refugee circumstances and many in-demand roles employers would be glad to fill with this talent, but very limited infrastructure has existed to match candidates to opportunities. Our talent platform is critical infrastructure to help connect Canadian employers facing skills shortages with the immense talent and potential within refugee populations. 

Already, people in refugee circumstances living in more than 100 countries have registered their skills on the talent platform. In our start-up year, 31 people secured jobs with the support of TalentLift and our partners. When including spouses and children, this totals 83 people who relocated or were in the process of relocating from refugee circumstances to secure lives in Canada. They arrive for skills-appropriate work with an average salary of $57,000 (and as high as $110,000), with access to public health, schools for their kids, and a pathway to permanent residence and citizenship. 

We are eager to grow our impact quickly from here. 

A grim milestone passed in the last year with more than 100 million people living displaced globally in countries with few options to achieve livelihoods or security. And yet, we know that many thousands of refugees globally have the skills to immediately contribute in new communities across Canada if given the opportunity.

We can’t wait to scale these opportunities – and see the impact these stars have in their new teams and communities. 

Read more about ScotiaRISE, Scotiabank’s 10-year, $500 million initiative to promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups, and about the bank’s commitment to diversity and inclusion

Candidates living in refugee circumstances and seeking a job in Canada can join TalentLift. Employers seeking global talent while engaging their team in something transformative can start hiring.

Canadian hiring teams can “take a leap” in East Africa and beyond

There are more than 27 million people living in refugee situations worldwide, and one third are living in countries in Africa. 

We got a chance to hear from a few people in the East Africa region about their experience getting a job offer in Canada. Our team was in Nairobi at a meeting organized by the regional UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) team to raise awareness and share good practice on supporting talented folks to access job opportunities in Canada and beyond as a solution to their displacement.

Bahati is a nurse who was living in Kenya as a refugee before our partners at RefugePoint and the Shapiro Foundation supported her to connect with the Glen Haven Manor team in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, where she’s living and working today. She was back in Nairobi too reflecting on her experience. Bahati recalled that for so long, “you’re living day to day, you don’t know what the future is going to be.” She also felt the weight of her identify as a refugee – which changed when she got to Canada. “The minute you step off the plane, you’re not a refugee anymore.”

“I expected to be identified as a refugee. It becomes who you are.” Instead, she found a team who saw her as a colleague first. 

The Bahati I got to know is a nursing professional, a mom, a partner, a leading voice advocating for open skilled visas for displaced talent, warm, funny, and an eager friend to anyone.

Tekle also shared his experience getting a job offer in Canada. He too is a nurse and got a job offer with Chancellor Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, another part of the country facing a critical shortage of healthcare staff. TalentLift met Tekle through our partners at UNHCR in the East Africa region and connected him to the Chancellor Park team. His visa process is underway. 

It’s remarkable to hear as part of someone’s personal story the urgent question about everyone else. Tekle said he’s the only one he knows so far who got an opportunity to meet a Canadian hiring team, but “there are thousands of others with skills.” Not only nurses, but countless professionals.

Bahati spoke directly to scaling our work too. To governments, she urged: “Barriers that can be removed, should be removed.” People who are in refugee situations are an equity-deserving group, and we can level the field for them in Canadian skilled immigration by overcoming disadvantages they face that have nothing to do with skills or potential.

“They have been through so much, and they shouldn’t be taken through other things that are unnecessary,” she said. “If there’s any policy we see we can influence to make it easier for them and their families, we should.”

The Canadian Government is listening. It recently announced forthcoming changes to the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP) aimed at greater access. But better is always possible – and TalentLift will keep advocating for ways to deepen equity and scale opportunities. 

We’re also deeping our partnerships in East Africa as we work to ensure people living in all geographies can be visible to Canadian hiring teams. We’re working with partners in Ethiopia and Rwanda now and we invite candidates anywhere to register on our talent platform. 

Candidates register on the talent platform in the UNHCR office in Jijiga, Ethiopia.

We need hiring teams right beside us. We need the leadership of Canadian companies to welcome many more talented job-seekers like Bahati and Tekle – to join your team and leave displacement behind.

As Doug Stephens, General Manager Operations, of the MacLeod Group said, “take a leap.” Andrew Walsh, the former CEO of Iress, knows that the ripple effects throughout the business will be “immeasurable.”


Join a community of pioneering hiring teams across Canada. Start hiring with TalentLift.

A global, diverse, extraordinary talent pool in displacement is in reach

Employers recruiting with TalentLift have a global, diverse, extraordinary talent pool in reach. Our talent platform is a bridge between Canadian hiring teams and talented job seekers living in refugee circumstances globally. 

For a long time, Canada’s skilled visas didn’t work for people living in refugee circumstances no matter how talented they were. Today, that’s changing. Canada has removed barriers like requiring a valid passport, which is impossible for people who can’t get one from a home government like Afghanistan or Syria, and requiring savings in a bank account. These requirements have nothing to do with skills and potential, and have structurally disadvantaged displaced talent. 

With visas opening up, TalentLift and our partners are supporting this talent pool to get visible – and in front of Canada’s hiring teams. 

Who are TalentLift candidates? 

Incredible people, first off. All are job seekers currently living in refugee circumstances and seeking an opportunity to contribute their skills, and to relocate alongside their families somewhere they can put down roots and thrive.  

Our candidates are living in more than 100 countries. The top 10 geographies where TalentLift candidates registered on the talent platform are living as refugees are: Ethiopia, Pakistan, Peru, Nigeria, Iran, India, Turkey, Lebanon, Poland, and Kenya. 

Countries where TalentLift candidates registered on the talent platform are living in refugee circumstances. 

The top 10 countries of origin of candidates are: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Cameroon, Venezuela, Somalia, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ukraine, and Yemen. Their professions span sectors like manufacturing, engineering, tech, healthcare, child care, hospitality, and numerous skilled trades. 

Countries of birth or citizenship of TalentLift candidates registered on the talent platform.

Every day, we and our employer partners meet extraordinary people. Here are just a few of them:

Sisi graduated with a bachelor’s in nursing in her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, before she had to leave for safety to Nigeria. There, she was able to keep working in healthcare but only informally, and without a secure path forward for herself or her career. Her next stop, however, is St. John’s on Canada’s East Coast where she’ll be a Personal Care Attendant and work towards her Canadian nursing license. Her skills are needed by almost every community across Canada, and Chancellor Park in St. John’s is the team that met and hired her first. She’ll follow in the steps of another new member of the Chancellor Park team, Dilruba, a healthcare professional originally from Afghanistan who said her favourite thing in Canada is “everything.”

Tahsin learned software engineering only after leaving the country where he was born, Myanmar, when he was a kid. He left because it wasn’t – and still isn’t – safe for people who are Rohingya. His family had to relocate to Indonesia, where folks living as refugees can be barred from basics like opening a bank account. Tahsin learned his computer skills from scratch in Indonesia and took courses he couldn’t officially get credit for to soak up information. Now, he’s working as a Full Stack Developer for Canadian green tech company EnPowered while applying for a skilled visa to Waterloo. In Canada, he’ll have permanent residence and a pathway to obtain his first-ever citizenship. New hires at EnPowered share electricity jokes when they start. We think he gets full points for this: “Renewable Energy? I am A Big Fan.”

How do hiring teams meet candidates? 

Get in touch! Once we know more about your open roles and your team, we’ll shortlist candidates with the skills you need.

Our goal is a seamless recruitment and relocation experience for you and the candidates you hire. TalentLift provides talent search, visa, and relocation services all in house. We know that a seamless experience for hiring teams is part of raising the competitiveness of our candidates.

How do candidates register with TalentLift? 

Candidates living in refugee circumstances anywhere can register their skills and aspirations on TalentLift’s talent platform. Registration on the talent platform is simple and free. Candidates can create a profile in minutes and return anytime to update it. We don’t charge candidates any fees at any time. 

On the talent platform, candidates can: 

  • Register a profile to be visible to Canadian employers seeking international talent
  • Upload a CV or create one using our CV builder
  • Express interest in open job opportunities
  • Access upskilling opportunities such as English language courses
  • Live chat with the TalentLift team about any questions

How does TalentLift find candidates? 

Often, they find us! But we also invest in finding them by working with some outstanding non-profit organizations in different refugee-hosting countries globally. Among our partners are FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, HIAS, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Refugee Action Hub (MIT ReACT), Talent Beyond Boundaries, Lifeline Afghanistan, and several UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) country offices. We intentionally pursue partnerships in underserved geographies, which we consider as places hosting populations of concern to UNHCR but representing low levels of humanitarian resettlement to Canada. 

Another thing you should know about TalentLift? 

We never say no to a challenge facing our candidates, and we’ve never met a closed door without finding an open window. No documents? Can’t register without government ID for an IELTS English test? Can’t get permission to travel internally? No internet connection? An exit process? We solve each and every outlandish and ridiculous obstacle facing talented people in displacement whose skills are needed by teams in Canada. 

Our commitment is a seamless recruitment and relocation experience. That’s our contribution to levelling the field, for the teams and candidates who make transformative hiring happen.

Start hiring: https://www.talentlift.ca/engage/start-hiring/

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.

Miles4Migrants advances equity for talented people living as refugees, with donated flights to new homes

Adnan and Ranim and their son during a flight from Beirut to Toronto. Adnan and Ranim, both musicians and music teachers, left their home country of Syria during the war.

What does it mean to support talented people living in refugee circumstances to compete, on an equal footing with international talent from any other background, for job and skilled visa opportunities? 

It means removing as many barriers as possible between Canadian teams and displaced job seekers, for a seamless recruitment and relocation experience. 

For TalentLift, this has involved working alongside pioneering companies to design inclusive hiring processes; alongside governments to remove visa-related barriers under the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP); alongside the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and NGO partners around the world to onboard job seekers on our talent platform; and alongside Miles4Migrants for barrier-free travel to Canada. 

Many of the candidates we support have little or no savings to finance their relocation, and reducing the costs for them and their employers (who substantially contribute) is significant in advancing their access to job opportunities.

Mulham, a carpenter, and his family fly from Tripoli, Libya, where they were living as refugees from Syria, to their new home in Toronto.

Each candidate relocating to Canada with TalentLift’s support has taken a flight booked by our partners at Miles4Migrants, a charity that uses donated miles to fly people in refugee circumstances to their new homes. Once a visa is approved and our candidates and their families can travel for work to Canada, Miles4Migrants books a flight at no cost to the family and without any administrative burden to them.

Travel is stressful at the best of times, but our candidates have faced steep exit fees from a host country, denial of boarding, and denial of transit – because, even with everything in order, overworked airport or airline staff are the ultimate greenlight on entry and can misinterpret complex visa rules. All this plus lives packed up in suitcases, children, maybe pets, and – for many – the first time ever travelling by plane. The Miles4Migrants team has been with us through it all, including late nights of rebookings or airport hotel bookings, always with expertise, calm, and the deepest empathy. 

Everyone is invested in a smooth experience for a family’s departure, in contrast with difficult movements in their past.

Miles4Migrants is behind the final stretch of a displacement journey to new homes across Canada. But cost-free, seamless flights have been fundamental in the work leading up to relocations too – this support is part of making job and skilled visa opportunities increasingly accessible to displaced talent.

How to get involved

The remarkable work of our partners at Miles4Migrants is powered by donations. 

  • Donate your airline miles, credit card points, flight credits, or cash to help people living as refugees worldwide reach their new homes: https://miles4migrants.org/donate/ 
  • Share this post with colleagues, friends and family who may be keen to contribute. 

If your team can’t find the skills you need locally, start hiring internationally with TalentLift to find talent within the global refugee population. Be part of a transformative relocation for a new employee and their family. 

Andrii, an engineer, and Natalia, an architect, fly with their daughter from Munich to Toronto, with a stop to pick up visas in Vienna. The family left Ukraine during the war. 

Rock musician entrepreneurs arrive from refugee circumstances to open their new music school in Canada

There are photos of Ranim with children sitting at keyboards during a group lesson. Another photo shows her with one of her students, both smiling and giving a peace sign. She looks happy and the kids look at home with her. Ranim and Adnan taught music together for eight years at their school in Homs, Syria, that they built. 

The war began in Syria in 2011 but they stayed with their students, and stopped charging money for those badly impacted by war. This was their home, where their son was born, where they created a thriving business and community. When Adnan began to receive threats, they still stayed. 

Adnan is a rock star. He’s a talented guitarist and composer, and made a solo career in parallel to teaching with Ranim. His latest project is an album collaboration with an international network of rock and metal musicians. In Syria during a civil war with outside influences, this close association with Western music became a liability. 

A bomb shattered the school in 2018. They lost everything inside. Then the threats became even more serious. One day, Adnan found a photo of himself online labelled ‘wanted.’ So in 2019, they crossed into Lebanon with their four-year old son where they were safe from bombing but not from threats, which followed them, indirectly, as family members got questioned: Where did they go? Where are they hiding?

They hid in Beirut. For three years, keeping a low profile and no online presence, until this week. 

A visa for entrepreneurs in the arts 

As artists and entrepreneurs, Adnan and Ranim had a visa pathway to Canada, where they have a few close professional contacts that became more like family since they left Syria. 

Canada courts world-class artistic and athletic talent through the federal Self-Employed Persons Program. TalentLift’s Legal Director, Veronica Wilson, connected the dots, realizing they were model applicants. Applicants should, according to the program guidelines, “enrich Canadian culture and sports […] for example, a music teacher destined to a small town can be considered significant at the local level.”

Adnan and Ranim dreamed of reopening their music school in Canada – in Parry Sound, where Adnan’s longtime producer lived alongside her partner, himself a musician retired from the rock group Anvil. 

It was a big dream to keep alive in small apartments in Beirut as the environment shifted around them. Lebanon entered its own crisis, economic and political, that has seen the currency drop in value by 95 per cent since October 2019. After the explosion in the port of Beirut, life got even harder. Adnan and Ranim saw more children in the streets, picking food from garbage and sleeping outside. Neither of them could work in Lebanon legally or for fear of their safety, and their savings disappeared. Their livelihood arrived in money transfers for rent and food from their adoptive family in Parry Sound.

Unlike traditional applicants to an entrepreneurship visa, Adnan and Ranim had no savings to demonstrate start-up capital for their business in Canada. But they had everything else, and donations in lieu of savings. They laid out their business plan for the new Solo Music School in Parry Sound as a hub for kids and young adults to learn music and express themselves – it would be an inclusive space, teaching vocals and multi-instruments, celebrating the diverse sounds of everyone. With their staff costs low, donated musical equipment, and $20,000 raised in donations, their start-up costs would be minimal and covered until revenue from their classes came in. Despite their talent and business plans, the couple’s visa pathway to Canada was more complicated than it should have been. Eventually approved, it was a long road. 

Their story builds the case for expanding efforts to improve access by displaced talent to the full suite of Canada’s skilled visa pathways. Canada has pioneered the Economic Mobility Pathways Pilot (EMPP) to overcome barriers like those faced by Adnan and Ranim, but it’s limited to a selection of programs not including entrepreneurship ones. The proven solutions behind this pilot can extend to all visa pathways, to court entrepreneurial talent from displacement too, where ingenuity and resilience have had to soar. 

The trio arrives in Canada

Their little boy is now seven years old and when he learned their visas were approved his first breathless question was, “I get to go to school?” A video from the airport on the way to Canada shows him jumping up and down on the spot, a big smile breaking out in excitement. A video from much earlier, from their apartment in Beirut, shows him rocking out on a drum set that Adnan fashioned using scrap plastics. He’s a little musician and budding mathematician, and has the coolest hair you can imagine, long braids good for jamming. 

In five years from now – which is possible to see in this country – Adnan and Ranim imagine their school is thriving. It’s a place people are proud to be part of, which links and opens cultures to one another. Kids are learning new skills. Adults too. Maybe there’s a band formed among the students that’s ready to play around the community. 

Their immediate dream is even closer to reach. Adnan said it’s to “live in peace, and free without fear from anything. Like any normal person.”

TalentLift is grateful for the support of our partners at Talent Beyond Boundaries for their longstanding support for the family, at Miles4Migrants for relocating the family to their new home, and at Secular Rescue and the Centre for Inquiry Canada for their remarkable financial and moral support during a long journey. TalentLift is also grateful to a wide group of friends and family for their donations to start up the family and Solo Music School in Parry Sound.

The optimism of skills-based mobility greets UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi in Toronto

Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank.
Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank.

Durid is a Maintenance Technician and he and his spouse are working in a Southern Ontario community where their skills are in high demand, and where their daughter can go to school. Anas is a Software Engineer on a Waterloo-based team that has grown four times in size during the pandemic. Kinaz will soon relocate to British Columbia to join a healthcare employer providing critical in-home care. All three were displaced from their homes and careers due to conflict before getting jobs and pursuing skilled visas to Canada. 

These are stories that fill you with optimism, said Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at a meeting in Toronto with Durid, Anas, Kinaz and three pioneering companies – ApplyBoard, Ice River Sustainable Solutions, and Scotiabank – behind a skills-based solution to displacement.

The scale of displacement today is unprecedented since the end of the Second World War. There were more than 26 million people living as refugees globally in 2021, before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August and the recent invasion of Ukraine.

Traditional solutions including humanitarian resettlement are essential but inadequate on their own to respond. Additional solutions are needed. Job-backed skilled visa opportunities hold immense promise – including potential to scale. 

Below are highlights from a discussion with High Commissioner Grandi on the promise of this solution. 

A bridge to opportunities

Anas relocated to Canada to join ApplyBoard after the team partnered with TalentLift to find software engineering talent. On his own, when he was living as a refugee in Lebanon, Anas couldn’t get traction in his international job search. It was a challenge getting a foot in the door, and there were other daily problems to face like electricity outages, a plummeting currency, and insecure status in the country. Kinaz faced similar challenges and long working days with little time beyond work and sleep. 

“You don’t have stability in your life that lets you focus on your long-term goals,” Anas said. 

He said the bridge between companies and candidates in displacement needs to widen. Organizations like TalentLift and our partner Talent Beyond Boundaries are part of that important infrastructure.

“I didn’t believe it.” 

When Durid got a call that the manufacturer Ice River Sustainable Solutions wanted to interview him, “I didn’t believe it.” After the interview, when he learned they wanted to hire him, “I still didn’t believe it,” he laughed. As awareness grows among the many thousands of talented people who could use their skills as a pathway out of displacement, more people can start believing it. 

Nearly one million vacancies

There were 915,500 open positions across Canada at the end of 2021. This is the opportunity space for connecting talented candidates in refugee circumstances with the teams and communities that need their skills.

International recruitment is a solution that is not just about workforce needs today but “understanding where the demand is going to be,” said Barb Mason, Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scotiabank. It’s an investment with enormous payoff for new employees, their families, and the Canadian economy. 

Room to improve: Speed is key

Canada is among a handful of countries pioneering ways to make international recruitment and skilled visas work better for talented people living in refugee circumstances. Equity-based flexibility, like recognizing expired passports and loans instead of savings, is significantly deepening access. But further change is needed to ensure companies can recruit and relocate displaced talent with ease and speed.

The visa timeline remains a challenge, said Jordan Ingster, Senior Legal Advisor with Ice River Sustainable Solutions, which saw demand and operations expand even through the pandemic. The team hired nine trades professionals who were living as refugees and could hire others. 

“We need to make that pathway quick,” said Dan Weber, Senior Director of Innovation and Strategy with ApplyBoard, which recently grew from a team of 400 to 1,600. “We need talent, how can we get it here?”

For that part, TalentLift is here to help. Interested teams can express interest to become part of this impactful hiring solution. 

A discussion with High Commissioner Grandi hosted by Scotiabank in Toronto.
A discussion with High Commissioner Grandi hosted by Scotiabank in Toronto. 

With the support of the Scotiabank ScotiaRISE initiative, TalentLift has built a talent platform for displaced job seekers to self-register, develop job-readiness, and connect to transformative job and relocation opportunities to Canada. Learn more.