Afghan nationals in the UK: professional capacity and views on return
Sales, Rosemary; Blitz, Brad; Marzano, Lisa
Middlesex University


The principal aim of this research is to develop a profile of the education, skills, and employment histories of Afghan nationals living in the UK and to identify their professional paths. The research also aims to identify Afghan nationals who are considering returning to the region and seeks to clarify their reasons for wanting to return.


This research is based on a review of the existing research on the size and composition of the Afghan community in the UK. Some of the main sources of information were: Afghan community organisations, and data from agencies such as UNHCR, International Organisation for Migration [IOM] and the Home Office. Afghan community organisations were gatekeepers in accessing participants for interviews and focus groups. Self -completion questionnaires were sent out via Afghan community organisations and a total of 115 completed questionnaires were received. 33 individual interviews were carried out, of which ten were in London, eight in Bristol, 13 in Manchester and two in Dover. In addition, five focus groups were held with numbers ranging from five to 12 people. The data from the questionnaires were coded and analysed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences [SPSS]. Some of they key themes explored were derived from the literature on return migration which had informed the design of questionnaires, while other themes or sub-themes emerged from the data.

Key findings

The ethnic backgrounds of the respondents were mainly Pashtun and Tajik with smaller numbers from other ethnic groups. The majority of respondents were males of working age with a secure immigration status. However, nearly 30% had insecure immigration status [ELR or awaiting a decision on asylum application]. With regards to skills and qualifications, the majority had good or very good English skills though women had poorer language skills. More than 60% of the respondents possessed either a degree or professional qualification. About 50% had achieved qualifications in the UK. With regards to employment, a majority had been employed in Afghanistan predominantly in the health and education sectors. Over half of the respondents were currently employed or self-employed. Men were more likely to be employed than women. The jobs done in the UK suggest considerable downward mobility between Afghanistan and Britain.

In relation to return, about half of the respondent said they would like to return to Afghanistan at some point in the future; about 30% were unsure and about 20% said that they would never return. The notion of return was perceived in a complex way and for many it meant temporary stay rather than permanent resettlement. Only one respondent appeared to want to return on a permanent basis. The decision to return was dictated by structural factors such as political stability in Afghanistan, economic stability and improvements in infrastructure there. Job status, salaries and issues concerning violation of human rights especially for women, were also considered to be very important. More individual concerns such as illness, marriage and kinship obligations were considered less important.


Many of the people interviewed had actively contributed to British society using their skills in employment or voluntary activities. It is very unlikely that there will be a large scale voluntary return; the respondents felt that it was too early to go back to their country, mainly because of structural factors. Respondents see return as temporary rather than permanent. Return packages should be more flexible to allow temporary stay. The respondents showed considerable interest in training in order to be able to access the labour market in the UK.

Resource Type
Research report
Commissioned By
Refugee Action; International Organization for Migration