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26 March 2019

New special issue of Transfer looks at refugees in the labour market

The large number of asylum applicants and refugees in the last few years has sparked interest in how they are received and assimilated in European countries. A growing focus is on labour markets as efforts are stepped up to integrate asylum-seekers and refugees into society through the workplace. The topic is being lent greater urgency by exploitation of the ‘problem’ of absorbing asylum-seekers by populist and far right parties in the runup to the European elections in May.

The latest edition of Transfer, the European Review of Labour and Research, is a special issue which explores the topic of asylum-seekers and refugees and their integration into labour markets through a set of background and research articles by leading experts. Labour market access is seen as a crucial element in the succesful integration of migrants. However, while EU law stipulates that refugees should be treated as akin to nationals in terms of labour market access and therefore cannot be discriminated against, when it comes to their success in finding good work they fare worse than nationals. 

Much previous research into labour markets is based on human capital theory, which focuses on an individual’s personal attributes and how these help them compete for work in the labour market. Yet the majority of asylum-seekers and most refugees – even those with good skills - tend to find work in the ‘secondary’ labour market doing jobs with low pay, long hours and little or not job security. 

While access to labour markets is an important means of integrating asylum-seekers and refugees, research into this area has shown that existing assumptions about labour market integration may be out of date and the issue requires more extensive research, focusing both on analyses of problems and achievements and on topics related to policy and best practice.

The introduction to the special issue, available here, analyses these issues and summarises the latest research. Individual chapter contributions focus on: the actors and institutions involved; the patterns of migration to the EU; and a comparison of policies towards refugees and asylum-seekers among Member States. The texts presented in this special issue use case studies from a number of European countries, including Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and Slovenia. The article by Wikström and Sténs on problematising refugee migrants in the Swedish forestry sector, is available to read here for free.

With the issue of refugees and asylum seekers likely to feature in the election campaign, the special issue provides a timely intervention into an important debate.

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