A Solution Beyond Boundaries


Photo via PublicDomainPictures under Creative Commons license

Daniel Hancock, Guest Writer

Mohammed Hakmi is excited.

He recently landed a job as a web developer with Canadian high-term firm Bonfire Interactive in Kitchener, Ontario. Previously, he worked illegally as a web developer to support his parents, three sisters and brother. As a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, his talents were not welcome. He used to pass a billboard telling Syrian refugees that they shouldn’t take jobs away from the Lebanese. But that’s changed now through the help of a non-profit organization called Talents Beyond Boundaries (TBB).

By the end of 2017, there were 25.4 million refugees in the world, reports the UN Refugee Agency. Many of these refugees possess valuable talents and skills but are barred from international labor markets for a variety of causes (e.g., work permit restrictions, language barriers, and insufficient relocation funds). In addition, many economic immigration policies limit the solution options of refugees to humanitarian aid.

TBB “envisions a world where refugees can rebuild their lives while contributing to the global economy.” The organization was established in 2015 by couple Mary Louise and Bruce Cohen to address some of the problems preventing skilled refugees from working internationally. While at Harvard as members of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative fellowship, the Cohens learned about the employment challenges refugees face and their ability to safely and legally move for work. As they researched this issue they became aware of academic and policymaker discussions about labor mobility—the moving of skilled individuals to countries where they can use their valuable skills—as a solution for refugees. No successful implementation of this option existed so the couple decided to create TBB to put this option for refugees into action.

In their Global Compact for Refugees submission to the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), TBB outlines three steps to creating labor mobility pathways for refugees: “(i) identifying skills and talents within refugee populations; (ii) linking employers to that talent; and (iii) facilitating the availability and predictability of visa pathways to give refugees access to international employment opportunities and labor mobility.” To implement these steps, TBB began partnering with the UNHCR and a bureau in the U.S. State Department that deals with refugees and migration to launch a pilot program for refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

In 2016, as part of this pilot program, TBB created an online talent catalog for the refugees in Jordan and Lebanon where they could document important labor information. Within a year over 10,000 refugees were registered in the database. This talent catalog has allowed TBB to showcase the skills and talents of refugees to international employers so that they can determine employability. A 2017 data analysis of TBB’s talent catalog shows the post-secondary education of 50% of participants to be a bachelor’s degree. On English language speaking proficiency, 30.8% had intermediate skills and 24.7% possessed full professional skills. The top ten industries of registrants (in descending order) were education, construction, engineering, healthcare, manufacturing, IT/technology, food service/hospitality, sales/marketing, the arts, and business and finance.

Mohammed Hakmi is one of seven refugees to receive job offers in Canada through TBB’s talent catalog. With their support, Hakmi worked through the employment process, rebuilt his resume, and prepared for job interviews. TBB also partnered with another private organization Miles4Migrants to fund his flight from Lebanon to Toronto. Miles4Migrants connected him with a generous donor from Maryland who funded the 50,000 air miles he needed. Hakmi is now living a dream that he hopes to not wake up from.

“I feel like I’m living in a wonderful dream now,” he says, “and I don’t want anyone to wake me up.

“I can have a secure life rather than living in daily fear of how I was going to stay alive and support my family.

“From now on, I can start building my future and achieve my ambitions and goals to enhance my skills and to become a productive person in Canadian society.”



Keung, Nicholas. “‘Canada Is a Dreamland’: Syrian Refugee Thrilled to Start Job at Kitchener High-tech Firm.” The Record. Metroland Media Group Ltd., 24 Mar. 2019. Web. 27 Apr. 2019.

“Our Vision & Impact.” Talent Beyond Boundaries. Talent Beyond Boundaries, n.d. Web.

“Policy Brief on Hiring Refugees.” UNHCR. The UN Refugee Agency, Sept. 2016. Web.

“Refugee Statistics.” USA for UNHCR. USA for UNHCR, n.d. Web.

Submission to UNHCR on the Global Compact for Refugees. Apr. 2018. Talent Beyond Boundaries, n.d. PDF

Why We Exist. N.p.: Talent Beyond Boundaries, n.d. PDF.

2017 Data Report. Sep. 2017. Talent Beyond Boundaries, n.d. PDF.