Integrating Refugees into the Turkish Labour Market

Ximena V Del Carpio, Sirma Demir Seker and Ahmet Levent Yener

Forced Migration Review 58, June 2018, pp. 10-13.


Turkey hosts nearly 3.3 million registered refugees, mostly from Syria, concentrated in provinces with lower labor force participation and higher unemployment rates than the national average. In 2016 the Turkish government passed a regulation to allow Syrian refugees to obtain formal work permits. However at least half of the over 2 million working-age Syrians work informally, and there continue to be barriers to the formal economic integration of refugees in Turkey, including: (a) refugees receiving EU-financed cash assistance risk losing benefits if they work formally; (b) refugees are restricted to seeking formal work in the place where they are registered, and changing their registration location is a costly and cumbersome procedure; (c) low education levels among Syrians in Turkey; (d) limited data on the types of skills and experiences of Syrians in Turkey; (d) information barriers faced by refugees and employers on how to obtain work permits; and (e) largely manual procedures for processing permits. The article describes two programs supported by the Ministry of Labor, Turkish Public Employment Services (ISKUR), World Bank and EU to address supply-side challenges (relating to access to work permits and employability) and demand-side challenges (relating to employment and economic activity) to be implemented from 2018 to 2021. Supply side activities include: (i) setting up systems for assessing skills, counseling and job search assistance in Arabic; (ii) language and skills training; (iii) financial incentives and support, e.g. on-the-job training coupled with financing for wages and insurance premiums; and (iv) outreach campaigns to improve knowledge of the work permit process, and improvements in IT systems for processing permits. To guide training providers, the programs will support the assessment of employers’ demand for occupations and skills in refugee hosting provinces. Demand side activities aim to promote entrepreneurship and formal job creation among refugees and host communities and include: (v) support for the creation of social enterprises that engage self-employed females to produce goods for sale; and (vi) micro-grant schemes to encourage Syrian entrepreneurs to establish new businesses, register existing businesses, and expand production capacity in order to hire new workers. Two lessons have emerged from pilot activities:

  • Importance of identifying contextual barriers to employment and employability from the outset in order to address them early on.
  • Investments to serve people should be made in such a way that they are sustainable and increase the efficiency of spending and effective use of resources.