Refugees’ biggest obstacles to integrate are recognition of qualifications and adequate language skills

“Barriers to the job market are quite numerous. Recognition of qualifications and language skills are the very first obstacles they are confronted with. Refugees say that they feel integrated when they have accommodation and a job – which is coherent with wider studies done on integration in the various Member States,” says Peter O’Sullivan from United National Refugee Agency UNHCR.

He spoke at the conference ‘Refugees’ labour market integration: challenges and initiatives to maximise potential’, organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on 15th of October in Brussels.

Migration is in the top of EU’s agenda

José Antonio Moreno Diaz, President of the EESC Study Group on the European Agenda on Migration, underlined that the topic was “of maximal actuality” and affected us as human beings.

“Working on this issue is currently the priority number one of the European Commission,” underlined Antoine Savary from Directorate-General Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) of the European Commission.

Difficulties in entering job market

Alizoy Temorsgah, a refugee from Afghanistan, gave a testimony on finding a job in a regulated profession in an EU country:
“I am an ordinary person facing many difficulties. Procedures could be simplified, they could be done in English and online, on one unique spot. But there is nothing else than paper – you must wait for hours and hours.”

Mr. Savary confirmed that the biggest difficulties for refugees to start working are the recognition of their qualifications and their language skills.

Refugees have high expectations in terms of jobs, as they are often qualified – but their qualifications are not necessarily recognised when they arrive to Europe. It is also often very difficult for them to show proofs of their certificates, after their long journey to Europe.

Language skills vary

Most often refugees quickly learn to have a good oral level but they keep a poorer written level, as the focus is on speaking. Some employers require better written language skills than what they have. On top of it, some jobs use specific vocabulary, which creates another language barrier. Following a vocational training during some years is also not possible as they often need to sustain their families immediately.

Furthermore, local authorities and administration services are not trained to face the arrival of the refugees and would need specific trainings in this field. Refugees do not always feel welcome by the local population – if they feel it strongly, then they also do not try to integrate.

Good practices on integrating the refugees

Projects focused on the integration of migrants introduced in the conference.

The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) presented several projects. In Sweden, the Max Hamburger burger chain signed a partnership with the Swedish Public Employment Service to employ refugees in entry-level positions and give them language classes. 25% of them stay in the firm afterwards.

“Mentoring for Employment” was another example: the EMPLOOI network are retired persons that work as mentors for the refugees and use their skills and professional networks to find job opportunities for them.

Caritas Europe presented then the Madga Hotel, a hotel supported by Caritas Austria and a private-public partnership, where 20 refugees welcome the guests as staff members.

“It only takes a small group of citizens to change the world. This applies to you every day,” said Stefano Mallia, rapporteur of the EESC opinion on the European Agenda on Migration, in his closing remarks.

Political recommendations by the speakers of the conference

Local authorities / Employment services

  • Employment agencies need to recognize refugees qualifications and redirect them to the right employment services adapted to their competences
  • Local authorities must receive knowledge trainings to know how to work with the arrivals of refugees
  • Refugees should have to go through a unique and simple procedure online – not on paper
Recognition of qualifications
  • Recognition of qualifications is crucial
  • It has to be done in English
  • Recognition of soft skills is crucial too
Language learning / Courses
  • Language learning is crucial
  • Language courses must be received as early as possible
  • There is a need for courses on the public system e.g. health system
Recommendations for the political level
  • Key for successful integration is to adopt a holistic approach beside employment we need to be aware of the importance of housing, education and healthcare
  • Barriers need to be changed into opportunities for refugees and for hosting EU countries
  • Member States need to adopt anti-discrimination policies
  • Member States need to provide information on the national labor market to the refugees

Presentations from the event can be found from the EESC website.

Text: Tania BermanPhotos: UN Photo / Mark Garten

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