Giacomo Solano portretfoto
Giacomo Solano portretfoto

Migrant inclusion through entrepreneurship: do all migrants have the same opportunities?

Asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers. Most people who leave their country voluntarily or involuntarily want to work and live a decent life like everyone else. If they do not succeed in the regular job market, starting their own business can be a solution. Do all migrants have the same opportunities to be entrepreneurial? Giacomo Solano, assistant professor in Migrant Inclusion at the department of Economics and Business Economics sees that some groups of migrants face more difficulties than others. Solano: ‘This happens because laws and policies within OECD and EU countries do not always provide adequate support to migrants.’   

Solano says legal frameworks are diverse rather than uniform, as access to entrepreneurship is provided only to some categories of migrants, while support measures for migrant entrepreneurship are uniform and standardized rather than diverse. In other words, policymakers differentiate between different migrant entrepreneurs when they should not and do not differentiate enough when they should. Solano: ‘The fact that some migrants are more vulnerable than others has to do with the inconsistency in the laws and policies of migrant entrepreneurship.’ 

In your study, you argue that the legal frameworks for doing business as a migrant differ according to their situation. What do you mean by this? 

‘The main obstacle for migrants to do or not do business is their legal status. Most Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and EU member states only allow migrants with temporary work permits or family reunification permits to start a business. In addition, migrants also often have to meet certain language requirements or specific professional qualifications. So in the legal frameworks around migrant entrepreneurship, you see a clear hierarchy of rights, which implies a certain form of discrimination.’  

Once migrants are allowed to start a business, they get a lot of support. This is just usually too unspecific, you say. How about that? 

‘The range of different types of support is wide. From legal help and administrative advice to counselling and coaching. However, you see that the support is not very specific; they do not match people's different characteristics and needs. The offer is often standard; as if the group of 'migrants' is homogeneous. Existing measures thus ignore specific challenges and problems of entrepreneurs. For example, women face considerably more challenges to be entrepreneurial, but there is a lack of gender-specific support for female migrant entrepreneurs.’ 

What consequences do these restrictions have for migrants?  

‘It causes some groups of migrants to be less involved in entrepreneurship, face more difficulties than others and, ultimately, be stuck in low-profitable business activities or even fail. Female migrants and refugees face the most challenges. Because they have fewer opportunities at the start because of their legal status or because they lack specific support for the additional challenges they face. And that is not beneficial. Not only for the migrants themselves, but also for the receiving society and its economy. Because what do you do when you want to earn a salary, but you cannot do so in the regular job market and everything is made difficult for you from all sides? Then you go looking for it on the black market or illegally. So in a way, we create problems by addressing the challenges around migrant entrepreneurship – and migrant inclusion more in general – in the wrong way.’ 

What needs to be done to give migrants more equal opportunities though? 

‘In general, I would say: restricting access to a country or the job market is not the solution. Trying to stop something often only worsens the situation. If there are people who come to our country and 99% just want to work and live a decent life, I think we must try to support them. There has also been research on the relationship between inclusive policies and their positive effects on society. Migrants are happier, healthier, and suffer less discrimination if they have equal access and rights as natives. In the process, trust and acceptance between migrants and non-migrants are promoted. So there is a rising spiral. As a researcher, I therefore also argue for more in-depth scientific research into such mechanisms. To what extent do we understand the reality and origins of (policy) restrictions on migrants and the effect of these restrictions? As an academic, I hope to contribute a bit to that debate with my research.’ 

Text: Annette Zonnenberg 

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