The refugees able to work remotely for firms around the world

A woman using a laptopGetty Images

At just 27-years-old, refugee Mursal Azizi is the sole breadwinner for her family of four.

Originally from Kabul, they fled Afghanistan last October, two months after the Taliban had regained control of the country.

They now live in Pakistan, where refugees are not allowed to join the payroll of a company or organisation, or go into their offices.

Thankfully, remote, freelance work from home is allowed. And due to a website called YaganKar, Ms Azizi has been able to earn money in her qualified field – as a graphic designer and animator.

YaganKar was set up in Canada in 2018 by Afghani migrant Jamshid Hashimi, to create remote work opportunities for skilled Afghans both inside and outside of their home country. Described as a talent platform, it links Afghani freelancers with would-be employers around the world.

Since signing up in May of this year, Mr Azizi has been hired for three projects. These have included designing a t-shirt illustration for a small fashion retailer called BigiNagi, and creating a logo for charity Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.

One of Mursal Azizi's t-shirt designs

Mursal Azizi

A single project fee of typically around $200 (£173) can cover her family’s expenses for a month. “My family are depending on me,” says Ms Azizi, who did not wish to provide a photograph of herself for this article.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, tens of millions of us around the world got to try homeworking for the first time. And many of us seemed to rather like it.

Figures obtained earlier this year by the BBC showed that in the UK the number of searches for remote working jobs between January 2020 and March 2022 soared eight-fold. Meanwhile the increase in the US was nearly five-fold.

Yet while remote working is now a lifestyle choice for many, for refugees like Ms Azizi it is a vital means by which she can put food on her table.

At the same time, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is now continuing to advocate remote work as a solution to the possible tension caused by refugees trying to find work within their new community, where jobs may already be scarce.

Earlier this year, the UNHCR said there is a record 100 million displaced people around the world, 53.2 million within their own borders, and 46.8 million who have gone abroad.

Afghan refugees in Pakistan

Getty Images

YaganKar, which has its main office in Canada, is now helping more than 600 Afghans gain remote work with more than 70 employers around the world, in sectors ranging from tech to design, marketing and social media.

The workers need a computer with internet access and a webcam. Around 70% or 400 of the current 600 are based in Afghanistan, including around 140 women.

The rest are based in around 20 other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, Italy and Indonesia. Around 20% of the total are female.

YaganKar makes its money by charging firms to post about their available work, and Mr Hashimi, its founder, hopes to continue to expand operations. He wants to have more than 1,000 Afghans on the books over the next year, and to launch a learning platform to help users increase their available skills.

“Even before the fall of the government [to the Taliban], employment opportunities in Afghanistan were not ideal,” he says. “But through the remote work, creator and gig economies we can scale Afghan talent [both at home and abroad] to the demands of the global market.”

Jamshid Hashimi

Jamshid Hashimi

Lorraine Charles has long argued that allowing refugees to become remote workers can help plug skills gaps in advanced economies.

She is the co-founder of London-based Na’amal, another social enterprise that works to help more refugees secure remote employment. It recently partnered with US-based global freelancers platform Upwork to help boost the number of refugees finding work via that website.

“Obviously not all professions and sectors can do this [offer remote work], but if remote becomes the de-facto working model, you don’t have to live in global capitals to have access to opportunity,” says Ms Charles.

“I see remote working as a democratization of employment. Opportunities aren’t everywhere, but they can be with this new space we’re living in.”

Presentational grey line

Global Trade

Presentational grey line

Remote work can give people a reason to stay in their home country, rather than seeking opportunities abroad.

In Venezuela more than seven million people have left the country since 2015, as the South American nation has endured a continuing economic and political crisis.

But the website iWorker is giving some a reason to stay. It connects more than 900 locals to remote work opportunities from firms in the US, Canada and Europe.

The platform was set up in 2018 by Venezuelan entrepreneur Enrique Vervez and his American friend Jeb Koogler.

Mr Vervez had fled to Argentina that year with his wife, who was pregnant at the time.

Enrique Yervez

Enrique Yervez

IWorker now continues to list work ranging from marketing research to database management, video editing and graphic designing, and it is expanding to also help remote workers across the wider Latin America region, and in Africa.

What is especially helpful for workers in Venezuela is that they are paid in US dollars, thereby avoiding the inflation that has bedevilled the Venezuelan bolivar. Pay rates via iWorker start from $5.99 an hour.

Mr Vervez says the work they offer means that Venezuelans are “not forced to flee the country looking for work, giving them the power to decide if they want to leave or stay”.

He adds: “This keeps families together, and helps reduce the strain on neighbouring countries.”

One Venezuelan who uses iWorker is Marcela Payares, 26, who lives in the capital with her mother and grandfather. She earns around $800 a month doing everything from research, to data entry and graphic design.

Marcela Payares

Marcela Payares

Ms Payares says that if she instead worked for a local company she’d be unlikely to earn more than £300 a month. She adds that her “personal growth has been huge”.

Back in Pakistan, Ms Azizi says that she is grateful to be able to work in graphic design and animation, in which she has a masters degree.

“I would do anything to survive, so it doesn’t matter what work I do. But artistic work is my passion and what I have always seem myself doing.”