Lost in Recognition: Barriers for European Labour Market Integration

Lost in Recognition: Barriers for European Labour Market Integration

Authors of the blog are Irina Isaakyan & Anna Triandafyllidou

Abbas, an experienced high school teacher from the Central African Republic, is now working at a grocery stall selling vegetables in the streets of  Paris. His brother, who also lives in Paris and works as a security guard in a shop, used to be a University professor back home. Drawn from the movie A Season in France (2017), this story depicts the reality of European labour market integration. Our everyday encounters abound in similar migrant biographies. Nino is an economist with two post-graduate degrees from Georgia. Vera is an experienced pediatrician from Moldova. Maria is a former music teacher from Russia. These three women are now employed as domestic workers in Rome. For more than ten years, they have been trying to have their qualifications recognized but find themselves stuck in the low-labour workforce.

In spite of outstanding skills shortages across the EU in sectors such as IT, healthcare and education (Financial Times 2019), nearly 40% of skilled third-country nationals living in the EU-28 are either over-qualified for the job they do or unemployed (OECD 2018, International Migration Outlook). According to OECD (2018), their unemployment rates actually double the unemployment rates among natives. As Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, notes in his interview to Telegraph on 24 December 2015, ‘There’s the misconception that [migrant] people can just walk in and take jobs, but nothing could be further from the truth’ (Telegraph 2015). In many cases, migrants  do not manage to find employment in their sector, let alone at the level of their education and skills despite several EU initiatives in this domain including the latest EU Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals.

The SIRIUS EU report on European Policies on Labour Market Integration (2019) suggests that the most effective policies of labour market integration are those related to language training and civic education because they give basic skills and knowledge of the destination country environment. At the same time, such successful initiatives are only ad hoc measures, which work on a short-term basis and not for all migrants. Some of them (such as women who come as family migrants) are often unable to access them due to socio-cultural constraints. Other migrants may not need these services at all. For example, Nino, Vera and Maria came to Italy with advanced knowledge of Italian. While the movie protagonist Abbas and his brother have always been fluent in French, which is the second official language in their country of origin.

Migrants’ over-qualification (or inability to secure employment matching their skills and education) has actually more to do with the lack of dedicated labour migration pathways and the absence of more formal systems of recognition of foreign qualifications between the EU and the countries of origin. In addition there is a need for customised career advice and skills matching once the migrants are in the EU.

Although the European Qualifications Framework (2008, 2018) offers guidelines to member states on how to evaluate foreign credentials, such evaluation decisions are left entirely to the discretion of individual member states. In addition it is nearly impossible to codify and assess informal qualifications or work experience that are not documented by relevant certificates. Last but not least, asylum seekers, refugees or migrants may not be able to cover the costs of translation and accreditation services when these are provided by the private sector with rather high fees. Lack of specific and accurate information on work opportunities, labour market regulation and overall access to local networks raise additional barriers to migrants or asylum seekers’ insertion in the labour market.

It would be important to foresee beyond general language training and overall integration, customized courses for CV writing and launch of an application for accreditation, approaching employers, relevant etiquette, matching of one’s skills and experience with relevant job sectors. Such challenges may be even greater for women migrants with family responsibilities and perhaps little support in their effort to find work outside the home.

In this respect the role of civil society actors including trade unions, migrant associations, other types of civil society appears as important as ever in facilitating migrants’ insertion in the labour market. NGOs can provide the necessary support for paper work and for local guidance, helping migrants self-assess their skills and their ‘fit’ in the local labour market. The EU level here would be important to promote networking and the exchange of good practices among local and national NGOs, and to offer standardized tools like the Skills Profile that NGOs can use in their daily work. Our SIRIUS research also highlights the need to offer customized services to migrant women, with regard to for instance the availability of public and community services in order to receive information on and support for employment.

If you want to know more about the European policy barriers and enablers for the integration of migrants, refugees and asylum applicants into labour markets, please have a look here at our Chapter on EU in our WP3 Report (52-81).