Refugees’ Right to Work and Access to Labor Markets – An Assessment. Part I: Synthesis
Roger Zetter, Héloïse Ruaudel
For refugees, the right to work is vital for reducing vulnerability, enhancing resilience, and securing dignity. Harnessing refugees’ skills can also benefit local economic activity and national development. But there are many obstacles. Based on a sample of 20 countries hosting 70 percent of the world’s refugees, this study investigates the role and impact of legal and normative provisions providing and protecting refugees’ right to work within the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as from the perspective of nonsignatory states. Three metrics analyze the principle determinants of the right to work and labor market access: refugee and employment law, policies and practices that facilitate or constrain the right to work, and mediating socioeconomic conditions. Overall the study finds remarkable diversity in legal provisions and constraints on refugees’ right to work. A restrictive approach to the right to work prevails, and most states are reluctant to ease these restrictions. The majority of refugees work in the informal sector, but under much less satisfactory and more exploitative conditions compared with nationals. Informal labor markets are also constrained in countries with fragile economies which often host large numbers of refugees. Based on its findings, the study concludes that more national and international coordination is required, multiple actors should share in the responsibility to deliver decent work, labor market policies as well as training and education should be harnessed to support sustainable livelihoods, and refugee social capital should be more effectively engaged.