Olga Correa, investigadora GEDIME

On November 29, 2017, we held our third session of Palau Macaya cycle of conferences on Labour integration and training: The challenge of skills and credentials transference in the framework of the project: Rights, Education, Health, Labour: efforts for the integration of refugees” funded by Fundació La Caixa-Palau Macaya.  The session had the honour of welcoming a variety of speakers who contributed with the different levels of migration and integration policies of refugees and migrants.  


At the international level, Mr. Nicholas Grisewood, technical specialist in the field of crisis migration presented the main points addressed in today’s global perspectives on refugees and migrant labour market integration.  At the European level, Dr. Bernd Parusel, expert for the Swedish National Contact Point of the European Migration Network (EMN) at the Swedish Migration Agency shared some of the most recent policies and activities taken place in Sweden.  Form the local perspective; two Spanish civil society organizations shared their perspectives and activities on the inclusion of refugees and migrants to the local labour market.  Martín Habiague, Director of the Fundació Ciutadania Multicultural Mescladís. and Jaime Marsal founder member of  VAE, Volunteers in Business Consulting.


Good practice and challenges were shared among the panellists and participants and the main conclusion drawn was the need of learning from all actors good and less successful practices and open a multilevel dialogue among localities, states, macro and micro level initiatives in order to acquire a better integration of migrants and refugees in the world today.


Recognizing the abilities carried by migrants and refugees: key for a successful integration


The session started by recognizing the current state of migrant and refugee integration into de labour market. Migrants in OECD countries were more educated in 2010 than they were in 2000[1].  There are several scholars working on higher skills migrants (tertiary education diploma holders) and subsequent policies around the globe to better recruit such elite population.  Nevertheless, there is a growing need in both the developed and emerging labour markets, a large number of mid skills workers. The OECD (2016) recognizes that this category is often absent from discussions. Nevertheless, is also known that 14 million mid-skills job vacancies have emerged in the United States from 2010 to 2018. Additionally, an estimated 45 million individuals with mid-level vocational skills will be required to satisfy the economic needs of India, South Asia and Africa over the period 2010 to 2030.


Despite this agreed need of migrant workers, several studies show that currently migrants have longer periods of unemployment, part-time and temporary, lower paid jobs, and knowledge-occupational mismatch than locals worldwide[2].


Recognizing the abilities carried by migrants and refugees is found to be key for a successful integration. The ability of performing a task well should be a valuable asset for any labour market. In an organized labour market all sort of skills are needed[3].   


Rapidly evolving global and national enabling environment for refugee access to labour markets


Nick Grisewood’s presentation called upon rapid and proactive responses to developing strategies to enable and facilitate refugee’s access to quality jobs. This was a crucial link to generate an environment that would link Humanitarian Action and Development Cooperation.


Mr. Grisewood started by explaining how the Syrian Donor Conference, London, February 2016, placed -for the first time- employment as one of central pillars of response to refugee situations in host countries.  At the time, during the middle of the crisis, Jordan, as one of the main country of destination of Syrian refugees, also presented its Jordan Compact, in which it committed to creating job opportunities for Syrian refugees and host communities. Commitment premised on development aid, concessional loans and revised EU-Jordan trade agreement, including the “relaxation of rule of origin” to facilitate access of Jordanian products to EU Single Market. Jordan was characterised by fragile labour market and weak economy – has large migrant worker population, poor inward investment levels, limited industrial and manufacturing expansion potential, weak agricultural sector – and it was already impacted by previous refugee movements (i.e. Iraqi and Palestinian).


The Turkish government realised at early stage of the Syrian influx that whether or not refugees had legal right to work, they would work anyway. A direct consequence of this phenomenon was a significant increase in informal economic activity that undermined formal labour market, driving down working conditions and wages, creating unfair competition with formal enterprise, undermining rights at work and leading to exploitative practices against Syrian refugee workers. Government therefore introduced temporary regulation for foreigners under temporary protection (mainly Syrian refugees), which allowed access to labour market opportunities through a work permit system. Mr. Grisewood explained that essentially, Syrian crisis kick-started a change of approach of the global refugee architecture.


In Ethiopia, there are 3 million young entrants into the labour market each year, large unemployment and under-employment levels, and a region heavily impacted by conflict, climate change, drought and other crises. Nevertheless, in November this year a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework was drafted and it plans to eliminate all camp settings on its territory within the next decade. This country has been receiving refugee influxes for decades and South Sudanese crisis continues to create challenges in East Ethiopia – where the borders remain open.  Ethiopia is looking to offer durable solutions to refugees through education, employment, and access to land, local integration and access to services. This country can be a model for the Horn of Africa and beyond.


This change of global paradigm towards the refugee crisis was reflected in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) first High-Level Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants in September 2016, which contained commitments to improve migration governance and refugee responses and called for creation of two Global Compacts; Global Compact for Refugees and Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Both instruments will be submitted to UNGA in September 2018[4].


Mr. Grisewood continued his presentation by pointing out the relevance of global developments to local implementation.  After highlighting the fact that world had changed irrevocably in terms of durable solutions for refugees.  Must keep in mind that over 80 per cent of world’s refugees are hosted by developing and middle income countries. Hosting refugees in these countries has an additional set of challenges than current European countries. Interestingly, in those countries too, labour market integration is at heart of approaches – work is central to regaining human dignity and helping integration process, which is why many countries have either reduced or done away with time limit for asylum seekers to be able to work.


The changing asylum situation in Sweden: government and civil society responses for better integration


Dr. Bernd Parusel from the Swedish Migration Agency stared his presentation by showing the current state on the Asylum applications in Sweden from 2010 to 2016. Applications had increased in 2015 to over a 150 thousand people[5].  The main nationalities of these applicants were Syrian, Afghani, Iraqi and Somalian.  The general principles for the integration of refugees in Sweden are the no mandatory dispersal/allocation system for asylum seekers within Sweden, which provides freedom of movement to the refugees and asylum seekers of looking for jobs all across the country. Another principle is that the reception in municipalities are based on voluntary agreements between the state and municipalities. In Sweden, beneficiaries of protection are still free to settle where they want, if they find accommodation by themselves, access to welfare and labour market.


The goal of Swedish integration policy is providing equal rights for all, irrespective of background.  This is mainly to be achieved through general policies for the entire population. Nevertheless, special measures are in place for refugees exclusively. Reacting to the refugee situation of 2015, Sweden has introduced a number of measures to reduce the number of asylum seekers coming to Sweden, such as border control, extraterritorial id-checks, temporary residence permits (13 months / 3 years) and restricted family reunification opportunities.  At the same time, to the introduction of these restrictive policies, initiatives for better and quicker labour market participation have been introduced. The panellist mentioned that this dichotomy in policies was seen sometimes as a set of conflict of objectives and there were vivid discussions about the measures for recognised protections seekers in the country.


The special integration measures for recognised beneficiaries of protection (and their family members) comprise the recognition of an individual “integration plan” (normal duration: two years), including: language course “Swedish for Immigrants”, normally 15-20 hours per week, day-time (there are also evening classes and special courses for persons with specific skills); shorter orientation courses; internships and on-the-job training; translation of foreign diplomas, guidance regarding formal validation and its newest addition of a short, complementary education programmes for people with incomplete qualifications.


The new measures to improve labour market participation, stand on the idea that beneficiaries of international protection have to get closer to the more dynamic regions within Sweden, that offer jobs opportunities.  Nevertheless, members of these programs can also work in remoter regions, where there is a certain need for labour (e.g. in agriculture, forestry, and tourism). Some rural municipalities have set targets for retaining asylum seekers – some of them are successful in finding them jobs.


Employment service offers complementary education since February 2016 with the aim of starting integration as early as possible. Dr. Parusel also mentioned a new initiative called the “100-Club”, which includes a special package of solutions for bigger companies that commit to employing at least 100 new arrivals, including special placement services and wage subsidies. He also shared the basics of a initiative known as the “Fast-tracks”, which aims at giving an immediate entrance into the labour market to new arrivals with qualifications for shortage occupations, e.g. chefs, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, butchers, lorry-drivers, social workers, school and pre-school teachers, animal care.  This is based on shortage occupations as identified by the Employment Service.  The list of “fast track” jobs is still being expanded, with currently 20 professions.


Since 2016, more than 3,500 newly arrived refugees have participated in ”fast-track” and other activities Government-subsidised jobs in the private economy.  There has been more funding available for civil society initiatives such as “Swedish from day one“, “Rent a Swede“, “Language pals“, etc.


Dr. Parusel concluded that this perspective mentioned above clashes with the more restrictive approach to asylum and family reunification since autumn 2015.   At the end of the discussion the panellist was also intrigued on how to address the irregular migrants situation and he mentioned that experiences shared by the local authorities and civil society in Catalonia could be interesting to explore and compare to the Swedish environment.


The conference concluded with the session of the two panellists from the civil society who gave an overview of the current challenge of the integration to the labour markets in the Catalonian labour markets and the entrepreneur activities that some migrants embark in.    

  1. OECD (2016), Perspectives on Global Development 2017: International Migration in a Shifting World, OECD Publishing, Paris. Retrieved from:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/persp_glob_dev-2017-en


  1. Branka, J. (2016)., Understanding the potential impact of skills recognition systems on labour markets: research report - International Labour Office, Skills and Employability Branch. - Geneva: ILO, 2016. ISBN: 9789221313540. Retrieved from: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/---ifp_skills/documents/publication/wcms_532417.pdf  
  1. Sparreboom T., Tarvid A.,  (2017) Skills mismatch of natives and immigrants in Europe; International Labour Office, Conditions of Work and Equality Department. – Geneva.


  1. UN General Assembly UNGA (2016) Report of the Secretary-General. “In safety and dignity: addressing large movements of refugees and migrants”. Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields,   Seventieth session. Agenda items 15 and 116. Follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit.