Labour market integration for migrants: Individual Barriers and Enablers in Switzerland

Swiss case on migrants labour markets integration barriers and enablers

Paula Moreno Russi, Anik Fischbach and Maria Mexi

The findings of the Swiss report explore how migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers (MRAs) in Switzerland comprehend labour market integration dynamics, especially how they themselves view their needs and expectations. Data were collected through qualitative field work and biographical interviews with MRAs from Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, USA, Turkey, Syria and Eritrea, who arrived in Switzerland between 2014 and 2019. Our findings unveil that different integration paths are influenced by several kinds of dynamic, driving MRAs experiences. These dynamics result from a combination of values, perceptions and reasoning inherent in the individual but also from external factors (e.g. policies, services) and other messages sent by the outside world and from the host society. The analysis in the report shows that the experiences of MRAs can overall function as obstacles but they can also provide the right tools to face the barriers they encounter in the host society. As we have found, negative or difficult administrative experiences and the resulting feeling of not being welcome, low appreciation of skills, experience of prejudice or discrimination are all elements that negatively affected the interviewees' sense of legitimacy and self-confidence. On the other hand, positive professional experiences, the exercise of an activity in which the migrant felt useful and valued, positive feedback from another person or institution, the expression of recognition of the difficulties faced by the authorities, local people or other actors representing the host society, access to integration support which empowers rather than victimises are among the elements that we find as part of the turning points and which have had a positive influence on the migrants' sense of legitimacy and self-confidence, giving them the resources to cope with obstacles and fight for professional integration in line with their values.

Our findings present a perspective that highlights an opportunity to strengthen labour market integration support. In addition to case management, individual support or coaching programmes are deemed as very useful services to help migrants in getting a foothold into the labour market. Skills assessment programmes have recently been introduced for refugees and provisionally admitted persons. For migrants arriving for reasons of family reunification, options can sometimes be found in associations, but remain difficult to access. Furthermore, accessing vocational training is another good enabler for sustainable integration. Facilitating access to training during work or reorientation programmes after entering the labour market would be another set of positive factors for sustainable integration and would prevent situations of de-skilling (as the case of Lucia—fictitious name-- portrayed in the report, shows). Another insight provided by the biographical accounts about the proper types of services to support professional integration concerns the provider of the services. That the support comes from an association is found by the migrants just as important as the support provided by public authorities.

Moreover, our findings depict an ugly reality for MRAs: beyond the willingness and implementation of support programmes for migrants, efforts still need to be made to change the mentalities and beliefs that exist around different groups of migrants and their skills. One of the most important problems to the integration of migrants arriving in the framework of asylum is the vicious circle in which the prejudices of one actor influence the prejudices of other actors and so on. The effects of these different prejudices on the self-confidence of migrants in turn impact the image they project to employers and continue to feed the prejudices of other actors. A change of mentality is therefore one of the most important factors stressed. Moreover, the biographical stories show that an effort to raise the awareness of public officials even within the various offices also remains to be made, as is the case of the offices in charge of unemployment in some cantons, for example. Though information and anti-discrimination activities are part of the cantonal integration programmes, and efforts have been made by the offices responsible for integration in this regard, there is still a long way to go.

For the full report please see here: