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Refugees at Work

The Skills2Work project of Dr Pascal Beckers aims to promote labor participation of refugees who are work permit holders. In this project the researchers are studying successful approaches to this issue in nine participating countries. In the Netherlands this concerns primarily Syrian, Iranian, Iraqi, Eritrean and Somali refugees.

Beckers: “For employers it is often difficult to know what competencies foreign refugees have. And asides from the papers or diplomas they have, there is the matter of cultural sensibility. Diplomas aren’t everything: people who gave up everything to flee from dangerous circumstances are often very driven to build a new future here.”

Competencies include learning experiences in formal settings but an informal learning environment also needs to be taken into account. Beckers: “There may be training courses you have followed but without obtaining a diploma, and you may have experience running a household, in transportation or in market trading, these are all experiences that say something about your skills in communication and management and are relevant skills in the job market.”

Refugees at Work

Identification and recognition

Part of the problem is the recognition of foreign diplomas. On paper it seems to be well orchestrated (there is an expertise center) but in reality – and particularly in the case of refugees – it often doesn’t work well. Work experience in other countries is often ignored or undervalued. This is because many things are often unclear. Beckers: “Imagine the employer has two people applying for the job: a Dutch person with a diploma and some relevant experience as an intern, or a foreigner with a comparable diploma from Iran, who has more actual work experience. Generally the job goes to the Dutch person; the competencies the Iranian has acquired abroad are not acknowledged. For the employer it is easier to relate to the person who is most similar to him or her in terms of personality and competencies. But that person is not necessarily the most qualified person for the job.”

“Our project is not purely academic; on the contrary it’s very practical. We are working on a website with a tool we can use to provide information to political authorities, employers, employment agencies, NGOs and refugees. On the website we share information about procedures, regulations and institutions. For example with respect to recognition of foreign competencies, the hiring of permit-holding refugees and the mechanics of the labor market. The website also presents best practices and stories about successful job market participation by permit holders.”

Split society

Beckers’ research is being conducted in a time that is seeing a mainly negative social debate about refugees. Beckers: “Sadly, the added value of a multicultural society is not being acknowledged enough. There is plenty of negative attention for what’s going wrong with integration. The challenge is to find a way to flip the switch, and we’re late already. There is a great risk that we are moving towards a split society with a growing division between a group that has plenty of opportunities and a group that is increasingly disenfranchised. There is a real risk that there will be a growing group of migrants who remain sidelined in our society. The labor market is a key element. As soon as permit holders are earning money and making their own contribution to the country of the Netherlands a more positive image of migrants will emerge in social discourse. That is why we are focusing on job market integration and independent entrepreneurship in this project.”

Economic necessity

In some countries diversity issues are receiving barely any attention. Beckers: “Especially in Hungary the mentality is overwhelmingly focused on closing down the borders and not letting a single refugee in. They think they are protecting Hungarian values that way. But the reality is that for the next decade or two these people are there. You will have to do something with all these people, if only out of economic necessity. You need to develop a policy to address this.”


  • Skills2Work: Valuing Skills of Beneficiaries of International Protection in the European Union
  • The Skills2Work project is a follow-up of the recently completed EU project DIVERSE.