Impact of Syrian Refugees on Male Immigrants’ Labor Market Outcomes in Jordan

Bilal Malaeb and Jackline Wahba

International Migration Review (2023)


This article examines whether the Syrian refugee inflow to Jordan has displaced other immigrant workers in the Jordanian labor market. Since the start of the Syrian war, more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees have settled in Jordan. At the same time, between 2004 and 2015, Jordan received an additional 1.6 million immigrants. Together, refugees and immigrants increased Jordan’s population by 45 percent.  

The authors compare areas with high and low exposure to refugees to estimate the impact of refugees on the labor market outcomes of male immigrants relative to male natives (aged 15-59 years). The authors address the possibility that refugees choose to settle in places with better labor market opportunities by employing an instrumental variables approach.  

The analysis draws on individual and household data from the Jordanian Labor Market Panel Survey (JLMPS) for 2010 (before the Syrian refugee influx) and 2016 (after the Syrian refugee influx), as well as the number of Syrians at the sub-district level from the 2004 and 2015 Jordanian censuses. Descriptive statistics show that: 

  • The share of immigrant men (excluding Syrian refugees) increased from 8 percent to 18 percent between 2010 and 2016. Most immigrants are Arabs, and Egyptians are the largest single non-refugee immigrant group, comprising 4 percent in 2010 and 13 percent in 2016. 
  • Almost three-quarters of working age immigrant men and Jordanian men were active in the labor force, but both groups experienced a drop in labor market participation in 2016. 
  • Nearly all immigrant men in the labor force were working, and very few were unemployed. Most immigrant men worked in informal jobs, while Jordanian men had much lower levels of informality. Approximately 40 percent of Jordanian men worked in the public sector, while almost no immigrant men did. 
  • Jordanian men reported higher hourly wages, but similar work hours compared to immigrant men.  
  • Between 2010 and 2016, there was a substantial increase in the number of immigrants performing agricultural work and a decrease in both construction and manufacturing work, whereas the economic activities performed by Jordanians did not change in this period. 
  • On average, immigrant men had fewer years of schooling, compared to Jordanian men. 

 Main empirical results: 

  • Immigrant men were more likely to be underemployed in areas with high concentration of Syrian refugees. The predicted probability of immigrants’ inactivity was 35 percent (10 percentage points higher) in areas with high refugee exposure (those above the mean share of refugees), compared to in areas with low refugee density (those below the mean). 
  • Immigrant men were more likely to work in the informal sector in areas with high concentration of Syrian refugees. The predicted probability of immigrants being engaged in informal employment rose to 75 percent from 70 percent in high versus low refugee density areas, whereas the average for Jordanians was 38 percent with no significant difference between high and low refugee density areas. 
  • Immigrant men were more likely to work fewer hours in areas with high concentration of Syrian refugees. In areas with higher refugee concentration, immigrants worked at least 1.5 fewer hours per day than in areas with lower concentration. The impact on hours worked was larger in economic sectors open to refugees. In the agricultural sector, immigrants worked less than 6 hours a day, compared to over 8.3 hours a day in areas with fewer refugees. In construction, immigrants worked only 6.2 hours per day, rather than 8.1 hours per day. 
  • Immigrant men were more likely to earn lower monthly wages in areas with high concentration of Syrian refugees. Immigrant men earned 9 percent lower monthly wages, due to competition with refugees. The impact on monthly earnings were larger in economic sectors open to refugees; in agriculture, immigrants earned 22 percent less, and in construction 27 percent less, in areas with high refugee concentration. 
  • These results hold regardless of economic sector or educational attainment of immigrants.  
  • Immigrant men reacted to the influx of refugees by choosing sub-districts with lower concentration of refugees, however their labor market outcomes were still adversely impacted by refugees.  

Overall, immigrant men experienced negative labor market outcomes in Jordan, relative to Jordanian men, because of the refugee influx. The authors conclude that the main competition that occurred in the Jordanian Labor Market, between 2010 and 2016, was not between refugees and Jordanian nationals, but between refugees and immigrants. These results are important for policymakers interested in the welfare of immigrants who might become underemployed and potentially worse off because of competition with refugees.