«Integrating refugees into the labour market: turning the crisis into an opportunity»

Refugees and migrants line up to board a night ferry from the Greek island of Kos to Athens.



Public seminar on
«Integrating refugees into the labour market: turning the crisis into an opportunity»

22 February 2016, 2.30 – 6 p.m., EESC

The Labour Market Observatory (LMO) organised a public seminar on “Integrating refugees into the labour market: turning the crisis into an opportunity” on Monday, 22 February 2016. The event was conceived as an integral part of a coherent EESC’s activity on the issue of refugees and integration – such as the opinion on Integration of refugees in the EU, the opinion on Social economy entreprises as a driver for migrant integration and the European Migration Forum of 6 – 7 April 2016. The seminar was an occasion to cooperate with Eurofound, which has just started working on a project to assess Member States’ policies for refugees’ integration.

The public seminar featured experts, MEPs, EESC members and several representatives of civil society organisations, who showcased a series of good practices from the grassroots level. It attracted a large number of participants and interest from several journalists who came from several Member States to attend the event.

Detailed minutes will soon be published on LMO’s web pages, though the key conclusions and recommendations of the event can be summarised as follows:

  • In 2015, the number of asylum applications has exceeded the number of 1 250 000 in the EU and the number is expected to rise. Asylum applicants come mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them will be granted asylum. For example, the asylum recognition rate for Syrians in the third quarter of 2015 reached 98 %.
  • It is not easy to have reliable data, but IOM research shows that refugees are extremely young. 70% of them are men. The large majority of them is lowly skilled, which is normal given the age. According to German assessments, only 10% of asylum seekers have some formal qualification; 90 % of them do not have any formal qualification, but might have skills acquired through informal way.
  • Many obstacles can hinder refugees’ fast and good integration into the labour market. Past experience shows that after 5 years, less than 50 % refugees are on employment (OECD data). One should not expect these people to be operational from the day one.

– First of all, their mental health might be affected by war and the long and dangerous journey to Europe.

– Other barriers relate to lack of language knowledge, discrimination, housing instability, the recognition of skills and qualifications, immobility, lack of networks (social, family or work networks), childcare issues, administrative barriers and the length of the asylum process as such.

– Official access to the labour market is not fast. In line with the Reception Directive, Member States should give access to labour market to asylum seekers no later than 9 months after their application is lodged (exceptions: UK, DK, IE). National laws vary from an immediate access (EL, PT, SE), to access after 3 months (AT, DE), 6 months (BE, CY, CZ, EE, ES, FI, IT, NL, PL, DK) or 9 months (BG, HR, FR, HU, LV, LU, SK, SI). These laws are not always applied and many other barriers hinder refugees’ employment: need for a work permit, preference given to natives /EU citizens, recognised refugees («labour market check»); restricted access to certain professions; restriction to work only in certain sectors/type of jobs/occupations (e.g. sectors facing workers shortages)

– The trend of giving protection for a limited time instead of asylum is demotivating and detrimental to integration.

  • Faced to an unprecedented inflow of refugees, public authorities still struggle to provide an adequate reception to people – in terms of accommodation, schooling, and health care. Volunteers, donors, civil society organisations play a key role to help in this situation.
  • Beyond responding to these immediate needs, Member States need to step up efforts to integrate refugees into the labour market – as employees or entrepreneurs. That is a «must», and should be seen as an investment in the future, to avoid refugees’ long-term dependency and marginalization and to give a positive image of them to the public. The current crisis is also an opportunity: refugees can be part of the solution to challenges such as demographic ageing or lack of specific skills.
  • Integration is a two-way process. Refugees should receive both information on their rights and on their duties in the host countries and on the values that need to be respected (gender equality, for ex.). Both refugees and local populations should receive civic education, which currently exists only in a few countries (AT, BE, DK, PT, ES).
  • Support measures for asylum seekers (language training, adult education, civic education, job-related training) need to be improved. This requires adequate funding, and putting in place a financial translation tax could be of help.
  • Partnerships, between social partners, public employment services, local authorities, civil society organisations have proved very useful to adopt a coherent approach and help refugees all the way through the system.
  • Placing refugees in the labour market should not be done at the expense of other disadvantaged groups such as young and long-term unemployed. Job creation must be encouraged.
  • Self-employment and entrepreneurship among refugees need to be encouraged and microfinance institutions should be better used.
  • Stability and adequate housing are prerequisites for refugees’ work integration.
  • Assessments must be carried out as soon as possible. These can include personality tests, skills assessment, interests. A good practice is to carry out these tests in languages that are known by refugees, such as Arabic, Persian, English.
  • Regarding recognition of qualifications, thinking «out of the box» and more flexibility are needed; work needs to be done with social partners for validation of skills.
  • Refugees need to be offered education and training However, a difficulty seen on the ground is that many young people do not want to be educated, but immediately want to work and earn money. Placing refugees on apprenticeships – for at least 3 months – can bring positive results.
  • Investing in language training is key; language learning is easier and more motivating when combined with work.
  • Social networks must be built around refugees and with refugees – Sports clubs can play a great role therefore.
  • Refugees need help to understand functioning of national labour markets; Public employment services’ role is key and their staff needs to be trained. Social partners also play a core role in this field and mentoring has proved efficient in this field.
  • Brain waste needs to be avoided; we need to avoid deskilling of refugees and care about their personal development.
  • More work needs to be done with local communities to bring down barriers and prevent misunderstandings between refugees and population. Awareness campaigns are important, and role of media is key. More energy and work need to be put in tackling discrimination and managing Europe’s very rich diversity.
  • Family reunification helps integration and local populations tend to better accept families than young male refugees. Reunification needs to be organised, to avoid family members coming to Europe with the help of smugglers.
  • Mentoring has proved to be very useful; it helps refugees in finding a job, and the mentor also gives advice on practical issues. It improves inter-cultural and inter-generational understanding. It is an occasion for the refugee to practice a national language and is also valorising for the mentor.
  • Asylum procedures need to be shorter.

Source: European Economic and Social Committee – Section on Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship – Labour Market Observatory

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