Fostering integration of refugees into the job market through skills recognition



Temps de lecture

4 min


The issue of refugee integration has gained prominence in Europe over the past decade. Refugees are individuals who have fled their home country seeking protection and security in another nation, with no possibility of returning. These individuals often endure the traumatic experience of losing everything and find themselves in a country they did not choose. Unlike voluntary migrants, refugees face unique challenges in terms of social and economic integration.

At the same time, national elections in Europe continue to reflect strong views against migration in general,  and particularly refugee migrants. National governments have tended to adopt very conservative policy measures often based on the assumption that an influx of refugees poses a threat to the host society.

The recent adoption of the Loi Immigration in the French parliament exemplifies this shift towards a more restrictive landscape for refugees and their supporting organizations. Attempts by the Italian and UK governments to establish refugee reception centers in Albania and Rwanda, respectively, are indicative of a similar shift in policy. 

Yet, an important study by UNHCR France, and partner organizations, suggests there is a growing demand for refugee talent within the private sector. Garnering insights from an online survey directed at French companies, the study engaged 225 firms and revealed a notable willingness and interest among these businesses in hiring refugees. The survey encompasses a varied range of industries, with seventeen sectors represented, including the service sector, commerce, manufacturing, and construction.  

A context of labor shortages

The graphs below summarize the main findings from the survey: 44% of the companies interviewed are actively extending support to refugees. As for the 49% of firms that replied the opposite, this is principally due to a lack of adequate information on the side of potential employers or the absence of opportunities and/or partnerships.

Furthermore, 71% of firms mention that they would hire refugee workers if certain barriers were lifted. Overcoming language obstacles, enabling refugees to access the labour market, and addressing information gaps with potential employers would facilitate better economic and social integration of refugees in the host country.

In the current context of labor shortages, these refugees could also fill jobs vacated by natives. Furthermore, they could make a positive contribution to the labor market by strengthening the diversity of productive skills in the destination economy. 

Limited opportunities

Gains for the host economy are potentially significant, however they remain on paper as a  recent study reveals that refugees are about 12 percent less likely to have a job than migrants with similar characteristics, and this employment gap persists for up to 10 years after immigration

In fact, in addition to the profound trauma stemming from forced displacement, refugees commonly face the challenge of effectively highlighting their skills, qualifications and experiences, when seeking employment in host countries. This obstacle inevitably restricts their access to desired and commensurate job opportunities.

How can we start addressing this mismatch? Currently, two complementary approaches exist. The first involves enhancing language skills coupled with additional vocational training or education. Speaking the language of the host country enables refugees to enrol in the host country’s education system and facilitates the transferability of their skills.

The Inter-ministerial Delegation for the Reception and Integration of Refugees (DIAIR) provides comprehensive details on refugees’ and other migrants’ access to language education and vocational training. Recently, various programs have emerged in educational institutions offering refugees the opportunity to further their education and boost their employability.  

The second approach involves helping refugees showcase their existing competences and skills. The European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, launched in 2018, is one such attempt offering refugees a way to signal their credentials to potential employers. While the document does not serve as a formal recognition, it effectively outlines the applicant’s educational background, prior professional experience, and language proficiency based on the information at hand. 

The variation in education and qualification systems among countries calls for more focused and ambitious skill assessment methods. Such methods would ensure alignment between refugees’ skills and qualifications, the specific requirements of the host country and the needs of companies, thereby fostering a more effective matching process.  

Skill recognition as a win-win solution  

Efficient assessment and recognition of refugees’ skills can yield numerous benefits. For refugees, it means avoiding the devaluation of their competences and enables rapid integration into the desired labour market without the need for further education. Companies can benefit by gaining access to the qualifications they need more efficiently and obtaining more reliable information.

Moreover, leveraging the untapped potential within the refugee workforce can help alleviate labour shortages across various sectors. From a societal and economic perspective, facilitating rapid access to employment can not only ease the burden on public welfare systems but also foster social cohesion. This, in turn, would help reshape the narrative and negative perceptions commonly held by natives about refugees.

Simone Moriconi, Full professor, IÉSEG School of ManagementFarah Kodeih, Associate professor of strategy, IÉSEG School of Management et Juan Munoz Morales, Assistant Professor of Economics, IÉSEG School of Management

This is a translated version of the article originally published on the Conversation France.

The original article in French can be viewed here.

The Conversation

Category (ies)

Economics & FinanceManagement & Society