News > UNITEE: Refugees and migrants in the labour market – Interview with Liam Patuzzi

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European Social Model, Jobs and Competitiveness

UNITEE: Refugees and migrants in the labour market – Interview with Liam Patuzzi

The New European interviewed Liam Patuzzi, Associate Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute Europe. We had the chance to discuss different and common challenges that migrants and refugees face to enter the labour market. Patuzzi also provided some insights of the best options for refugees and migrants to land jobs.

Does the European Union need migrants?

If we look at the demographic development in the European Union (EU), we see that in most Member States the overall the population is aging. That means that the labour force will constantly shrink over the next decades. Besides, the population in retirement will increase and that will create a disproportion in the social balance. Migration is not the solution to this, but it can alleviate some pressure and be one of the components to react to this trend of aging. Therefore, it should be seen as an opportunity. For other reasons, migration of highly skilled workers and migration of talent, including innovative entrepreneurs from abroad, will be important for the EU to manage to fulfil its goal to become an innovative knowledge economy and remain competitive on the global stage.

Other types of migration for instance, refugee migration, is more a question of global responsibility of the EU. There are many countries in the neighbourhood of the EU that are ravaged by war and deep poverty. The EU should stand up to its values and offer a path for people that are trying to escape.

What are the current issues that make it difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to be fully integrated into the host societies?

Refugees and asylum seekers share some of the challenges that other migrants encounter, such as language barrier, lack of a relevant networks, social capital or even different skills and qualifications.

Nevertheless, refugees and asylum seekers face additional challenges. Due to the fact that their migration does not respond to labour market needs, they are not immediately tighten to an employer as a work migrant could be. In many cases, refugees leave their countries in a hurry and do not have time to collect information about the country of destination. It can also happen that they do not know what country of destination they will live in.

Moreover, in some cases young refugees or asylum seekers had to interrupt their education or career pathway. In many cases, they are not able to bring formal qualifications. It can happen that they completed their education in their country of origin, but do not have their certificates with them. Another challenge is the trauma or mental health issues that refugees may have, because they experienced the deepest violence and fear for their own lives in their home countries.

Concretely, for asylum seekers there are several administrative and legal barriers. Countries have systems and regulations emplaced that hinder asylum seekers from immediately accessing the labour market. A decision for their asylum claim needs to be made first. Currently, European countries are becoming more liberal, even admitting asylum seekers without a decision to already enter the job market. However, there are some discrepancies from country to country and there may be some other barriers such as labour market tests and legal barriers.

Often, after the arrival of refugees to their country of destination, refugees face many different challenges, such as living in reception facilities. Normally, they are located in peripheral areas and far from urban centres. Moreover, refugees also have to manage family challenges.

All these additional burdens make it somehow more difficult for refugees to concentrate in finding a job or go to an employment agency.

What is the recipe for migrant labour integration?

In general, throughout the world, language is a key dimension. It is becoming clear that it is better to tight language training with vocational training or work experience. In other words, not to keep these two things separated.

There are new programmes emerging, partly as a reaction to the refugee influx, which can also be a relevant lesson for all migrants. These systems of integration support can be more flexible and offer language instruction at the work place. Also, it can create approaches where the recognition of qualifications or an assessment of skills can take place at the job.

When we talk about labour market integration, one immediate goal would be to find any job. But that can become a trap. A low skilled job for a person that has higher qualifications or a desire to progress can quickly become a stumbling block rather than a stepping stone. It is important even when the first entry job is achieved, to continue working and offering paths of career and progress through continuing education.

Another aspect is to create social capital and networks, for instance through mentoring models. These models have been proven successful in a set of countries. Mainly, because there is a component of emotional support and empowerment. Usually the mentor is an experienced professional in the field, he can provide informal rules about the work environment and other cultural specific rules. He or she can also help the immigrant with networks and contacts, as many jobs are found through these paths nowadays.

Do Member States qualification systems differ a lot from one another?

Skills recognition and skills transferability can constitute important barriers for migrants and refugees. There are some significant improvements in Europe. In Germany, there has been a progress with a recognition law that was passed in 2012. This law streamlined the whole process of recognition and established the right for migrants to get their foreign qualifications recognised and established some time caps. From the moment of the application, an assessment will be given in three to four months.

However, there are some areas were progress is necessary, for instance, when immigrants receive a partial recognition of their qualifications. There needs to be enough offer to bridge these gaps to modularise courses, so that migrants or refugees do not have to repeat the whole training but just fil the gaps on a targeted way.

Some refugees do not bring their qualifications, therefore it is important to enhance the systems of informal or formal validation systems. Some EU countries are more advanced in this topic, for instance Norway.

Are refugee women less likely to be integrated in the labour market? Why?

Refugee women constitute a particularly vulnerable category among migrants. Sometimes because of lack of qualifications and the other barriers previously mentioned. Women have an additional burden, as they often have to care to the needs of the family. Sometimes the problem with integration is also related to the role of the women in specific cultures of origin, which may constitute a barriers to their participation in integration courses, training, etc.

Therefore, to try to reach out to this group, tailored and targeted offerings or measure can be used, in order to create a safe environment. Notwithstanding, in the mid and long term perspective, we should try to get women into mainstream offerings, not only to niche targeting measures.

Moreover, it is also a discussion of values. It is important to make it clear that values is one of the dimensions of integration for people who come to Europe. It is not only about language or skills, but also about accepting and endorsing the values that are fundamental for the EU, namely the gender equality between men and women. That is why this civic integration courses are an important part within the framework of integration support.

Do you think the EU should do more to support migrant entrepreneurship? How could it be done?

Migrant entrepreneurship is an area of focus and activity of the EU. It is a topic of great potential, particularly if we look now at the integration of refugees, it is a topic that gains new momentum.

Entrepreneurship can work for people that come without formal vocational qualifications or skills. For them, entrepreneurship can constitute an alternative path because it builds on soft skills and it needs a certain risk prom behaviour.

In many cases, some migrants come from countries where entrepreneurship may also be a more widespread career path and perhaps they already have some of the needed skills to a larger extend.

In general, migrant entrepreneurship has the potential to fulfil two important goals: social inclusion and labour market integration and the goal of creating employment and fostering growth. At the same time, it can also stimulate innovativeness and move the European economy forward.

Entrepreneurs face some barriers and challenges. The European institutions have developed useful instruments to support migrant entrepreneurs and also analyse all the most important challenges. Mainly, language barriers, lack of knowledge of the business environment in the host country, limited knowledge of the regulations and legal procedures that are involved for establishing a business. Sometimes, there is a lack of technical business skills, for instance, how to make a solid business financial plan that would really lead the business to sustainable success. The lack of a network and problems in accessing credits from banks is really strong among newcomers. Newcomers have a harder time proving their credit history and providing guarantees.

These are barriers should be kept in mind when national or local authorities want to develop services for entrepreneurs.

In general migrant entrepreneurship has great potential, but it comes with many challenges and it is not easy. In some countries, like in Germany, migrants tend to create more business but they tend to be more vulnerable. It is great to build entrepreneurial enthusiasm, but it is also crucial to set the conditions for a sustainably and long term success of these businesses.

Migrant businesses are often associated with ethnic enterprises or low innovation enterprises, but there are findings that proof that the picture is much more diverse. Migrant businesses can be found in all sectors, with strong innovation potential. It is important to change the narrative and to counter the narrative that migrant business are only ethnic shops.

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