The Brussels International Centre for Research and Human Rights participated in a policy dialogue entitled “Boosting refugee integration into labour market: How can the EU help employers?” part of the numerous World Refugee Day events taking place around the world on June 20th. The event was hosted by the European Policy Centre (EPC), in collaboration with Connecting Europe, Stiftung Mercator and the King Baudouin Foundation and held under the supervision of Mr. Frank McNamara, policy analyst at the European Political Centre in Brussels.
At first, Claire Dhéret, member of the EPC shared a selection of the findings of a yearlong research project that aimed at giving a voice to employers and improve the understanding of the constraints and obstacles faced when wishing to hire refugees. In fact, the role played by employers in labour-market integration of refugee is crucial. Today, it takes 5-15 years for a refugee to fully integrate into the labour market of its host country. A lot of initiatives are undertaken by NGOs, entrepreneurs and private companies. Mentoring programs, professional training and language classes for refugees are provided, but the employers still face many obstacles when they want to hire refugees. The first obstacle is the lack of recognition of skills and qualification of refugees. Secondly, employers face a passive public sector when addressing their questions and concerns. Moreover, the numerous entities of the public sector working for refugees’ integration are not well coordinated. The study focuses on the added value that EU policies can have on this issue. According to EPC’s findings, the EU should focus on helping member states with sustainable integration practices and leverage of EU financial support. There is a need to provide a recognition of refugees’ skills and qualifications for mobility purposes in order to allow them to be fully integrated into the European job market. For the moment, a majority of refugees end up in low skilled jobs.
Later, a panel discussion was organized with diplomatic figures and experts in the field. Jean Lambert, Member of the European Parliament, states that the European member states should align the period of residency granted to refugees with the length of their vocational training and their work contract.
Alessandra Venturini, Professor of political economy the at University of Turin and deputy director of the migration policy centre at the European university institute, presented the results of her research concerning refugees’ integration in Italy. She found that in the long run, if the country integrates refugees, it will, on average, lead to a 0.6 increase in GDP. Moreover, the earlier the integration process starts, the better the outcomes are.
Birgit Arens, Senior Project Officer at the Eurochambres added that it is essential for countries to lengthen the duration of the residence permit. According to her, the longer refugees can stay in a country, the more employers will be willing to hire them because this ensures that they will get a return on their investment.
Antoine Savary, who is the deputy head of Unit Legal Migration and Integration at the DG Migration and Home Affairs of the European commission said that it is important to keep in mind that the EU has a limited influence on integration measures. The EU is not able to fully intervene in the domain of refugees’ integration because it is primarily the role of local and national authorities. Indeed, the European commission has limited competence to act. In the domain of integration, the member states still have the last word. Hence, they cannot force a country to invest in integration.
Claire Dhéret concluded that, because of the transnational ties that characterise refugees, Europe should have a role to play in integration. We need migrants for our economy, therefore we should have a front door open for labour migration and asylum seekers.