Immigrants in Europe Struggle to Find Decent Work Amid Looming Economic Crises

Human Wrongs Watch

Against a backdrop of aging populations and persistently low economic growth, few European governments are doing enough to help recent immigrants move from low-skilled precarious jobs and into decent work, says a new report out on 18 November 2014 from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Migration Policy Institute.


Migrants arriving on Italy’s Lampedusa Island after crossing the Mediterranean on a dilapidated boat. Photo: UNHCR/F. Noy

According to the report, Aiming Higher: Policies to Get Immigrants into Middle-Skilled Work in Europe, while some countries have made sizable investments in labour market integration policies throughout the past decade, they have focused primarily on getting immigrants into work. As a result, these policies have struggled to facilitate career progression over time.*

“As our findings demonstrate, despite some promising innovations in some countries there is clearly no quick fix to the problem of immigrants stuck in low-skilled work or unemployment,” said Christiane Kuptsch, Senior Specialist in Migration Policy with the ILO.

The Labour Market Progression

“However, strengthening employment and migration policy coherence could yield significant benefits for migrant workers, employers and labour markets,” she added.

The report examines the labour market progression of recent immigrants in six European Union (EU) countries – Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom – and analyzes policies related to integration and workforce development, with a focus on public employment services and language and vocational training.

Specifically, the report outlines the difficulty foreign-born workers face in gaining a secure foothold in the labour market during their first decade after arrival, with many experiencing lengthy periods of unemployment, inactivity or stagnation in low-skilled work.

Indeed, the report found that the employment gaps between native and foreign-born workers not only persist but have widened since the onset of the global economic crisis, with particularly significant effects on women, migrants who come on a visa other than a work visa, and immigrants from outside the European Union.

Not Selected for Their Skills 

While Europe has experienced considerable immigration throughout the past 25 years from within and beyond the continent, a majority of immigrants were not selected for their skills and instead arrived through humanitarian channels or as part of family reunification, according to the report.

Many who came with sought-after skills found work with ease, particularly during the economic boom of the mid-2000s. Many newcomers, however, have struggled to progress out of the lowest-skilled jobs into stable, middle-skilled positions, in some cases despite having substantial qualifications and experience, the study found.

“Europe’s demographic prospects make clear that countries can ill afford to squander the potential of their residents – wherever they come from,” said Demetrios G. Papademetriou, President Emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute.

The report is the result of a research initiative carried out by the Migration Policy Institute in collaboration with the ILO and with funding from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.


It also examines strategies to address the labour market integration of immigrant workers in Europe – including programmes targeted directly at immigrants and mainstream services available to the whole population.

While targeted programmes allow policymakers to design services for new arrivals’ specific needs, including orientation and job coaching, they are often small in scale and focus on particular groups, such as refugees or family immigrants, the report found.

As a result, they run the risk of excluding many others with similar needs. Some countries have thus turned to mainstream institutions, such as public employment services and training institutions, to provide more inclusive services at a greater scale, the research found.

In addition, the report offers a series of recommendations for policymakers to consider, including improving incentives for public employment agencies to serve the needs of migrants and developing a better-trained and/or more specialized workforce of advisors to provide both short- and longer-term career advice.

Funding partnerships between employers and training institutions to assist employers willing to facilitate language instruction or support apprenticeships and work experience programmes, and improving the coordination of policies enacted at federal, state and local levels, are among the other recommendations in the report. (*Source: UN Release).

2014 Human Wrongs Watch

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