Around the world, lawyers are finding ways to support fellow lawyers at-risk of harm or affected by forced displacement to seek safety, gain employment, and rebuild their lives. With humanitarian visas and traditional resettlement spaces diminishing globally, employment visas can provide a viable complementary pathway to safety for highly skilled refugees. Thousands of such refugees with backgrounds in law are living in a precarious existence either in refugee camps or in other temporary living arrangements while waiting for access to very limited resettlement spaces. This group includes hundreds of Afghan judges and lawyers.
Under Taliban rule, women are unable to work in professional roles and people who advocated for human rights, worked in collaboration with the Allied forces or the former government, or as part of the legal system are in danger, in hiding, and seeking safe routes to leave Afghanistan. Except in a limited range of circumstances, it is very difficult for skilled refugees to obtain visas to come to the UK. In 2021, only 1,587 people were granted protection through resettlement schemes in the UK. The reality is that thousands of highly skilled refugees with excellent qualifications in law and business need complementary pathways for resettlement.
In response, global charity Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) has worked with DLA Piper and Dechert to launch the Displaced Legal Talent Initiative. The initiative seeks to support law firms to hire at-risk lawyers and judges and sponsor them to migrate to the UK. In addition to creating legal pathways to life in a safe country, this initiative also strengthens the agency of those involved and increases the diversity of the legal sector.
Through a pilot project with the UK government, TBB is able to offer free priority processing of Skilled Worker Visas and safeguards in the event that they lose their job, to ensure they are not returned to a country where they may face danger. Candidates will be entitled to a five-year Skilled Worker Visa and then Indefinite Leave to Remain (providing criteria is met).
DLA Piper had a relationship with three young Afghan lawyers who contacted the firm in August 2021 to say that their lives were at risk. As there was no clear visa route for these individuals, the firm offered all three paralegal roles at their legal delivery centre in Leeds. They have now arrived in the UK and are already exceeding expectations in their new roles. The Displaced Legal Talent Initiative aims to build on and learn from their experience. A pilot group of international law firms are currently recruiting displaced lawyers to their London offices through this initiative.
PILnet, who, together with a Core Group of NGOs, support the coordination, sustainability and monitoring of the implementation of the Global Refugee Forum Legal Community Pledge and as a signatory to the GRF Refugee Participation Pledge, is committed to mobilizing the legal community to work with people affected by displacement to seek protection and solutions to their displacement. This includes mobilizing the legal community to support those displaced to advance their study or career in the field of law, through scholarships, employment opportunities, mentoring, placements, and training, as well as by using employment migration pathways as a means of protection for lawyers at risk of harm. PILnet is pleased to support this initiative and looks forward to working with the global legal community to further explore how similar projects could be developed in other contexts and countries.
Representatives of TBB, DLA Piper and Dechert will be participating in the 2022 PILnet Global Forum in Dublin where they will host a lunchtime meeting on Wednesday, 19 October at 1:30 pm (local time) for interested firms to learn more how they can sponsor skilled displaced people to migrate to the UK or other safe countries for work. For further details on the meeting or the project, please contact Olivia Clark at DLA Piper or Marion Edge at Dechert.