An all-inclusive labour market: challenges for refugees

The working population in Europe is expected to decline from 65% to 56% by 2070, while those aged 65+ will rise from 19% to 29% of the population. Participation in the labour market is an important aspect in the integration process of refugees and simultaneously helps to counter discrimination and enhance inclusion in society. Many refugees in Europe want to work; to establish contacts, take care of their family and contribute to society. Yet, in 2016, the European Commission found that only 25% of the refugees in the European Union had a job after 5 years of residence. Recently, a new report of Labor Market and Vocational Research (IAB) announced that this is now 50% in Germany. Still, there is room for improvement as refugees remain one of the most vulnerable groups on the labour market. Eurodiaconia argues action needs to be undertaken to provide this group with more job opportunities.

17% of the participants in the German integration course is illiterate, and most of them are refugees, says Hans-Eckhard Sommer – head of the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). Sommer states that for these people it is very hard to integrate into the labour market. He argues that youth from southern Europe should be recruited instead to cover the workers shortage. Those people integrate “easier”.

Next to language and illiteracy issues, refugees encounter multiple other challenges when looking for employment. This includes a lack of a social and professional networks, possible trauma, the long and insecure asylum process and/or unrecognized diplomas. Eurodiaconia argues that “[e]mployers, for their part, sometimes lack capacities and knowledge to attain migrants”. Some employers might share the opinion of Sommer and rather choose to employ other people – who did not have to flee their home country – because it is the “easier” option.

The right to work
On February 3, during the presentation of Eurodiaconia’s new policy paper ‘Improving the Labour Market Inclusion of Migrants and refugees’, attention is brought to Directive 2013/33. In this directive, it is stated that refugees have the right to access the labour market within nine months after applying for asylum. Since 2017, the ‘European Pillar of Social Rights’ also advocates for more powerful social and employment rights for everyone who lives legally in the EU. It points out that “[e]qual opportunities of under-represented groups shall be fostered”. Furthermore, ‘The Action Plan on the integration of third-country nationals’ from 2016 encouraged Member States to prioritize integration of migrants and refugees and to update their strategies accordingly.

Labour market inclusion in new migration policy
Eurodiaconia emphasizes cross-sectional cooperation is needed “to match the potential of migrants with labour market needs” and urges to “involve civil society as a pivotal actor between migrants and employers”. The UNHCR focuses on improving the access to the labour market for refugees “for example through acceptance of refugee qualifications certified under the Council of Europe’s certification passport.” Both organizations argue the Commission’s plan to develop a ‘New pact on Migration and Asylum’ provides a good opportunity to implement measures to enhance labour market integration for refugees and incorporate importants aspects of 2016’s ‘Action Plan’.

No need for miracles
European Commissioner Antoine Savary emphasizes that not only refugees but also ‘first generation Europeans’ can struggle to find a job. “So when you are 55 and land on the European labour market, you can not expect miracles,” he stated during Eurosiaconia’s event on labour market inclusion.

No one is asking for miracles – just for policies and support, so that all skilled workers have a fair chance to access the labour market and to compete with everyone else.