Perceptions About the Labor Market Integration of Refugees: Evidences from Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Zeynep Sahin Mencutek and Ayat J. Nashwan

Journal of International Migration and Integration (2020)


This article examines the labor market integration of Syrian refugees in Jordan. It describes how labor market integration depends on the alignment of four diverging perspectives: (1) the host state perspective, expressed through policies and laws on refugee employment; (2) the refugee perspective shaped by refugees’ actual participation in the formal and informal labor markets and the challenges they face; (3) the host community perspective, which affects their reactions to refugee integration; and (4) the donor perspective, which has implications for development aid and support to refugees’ employment rights. The analysis is based on qualitative research methods, particularly ethnographic policy analysis, interviews, and desk research.

Main arguments:

  • Refugees’ legal right to work is one of the most contentious policy issues for the Jordanian government and for its relations with citizens, refugees, and donors, as it intersects with the country’s demographic dynamics, economy development vision, and relations with external actors.
  • From the perspective of donors, ensuring Syrians’ legal access to labor market in the immediate host countries, like Jordan, is a policy tool for keeping refugees in the origin region.
  • For the host community, refugee employment is understood to be crucial for refugees’ self-reliance and local integration, but it is also perceived as the source of competition for already scarce job opportunities.
  • For refugees, access to the labor market and support are ways of gaining sustainable livelihood opportunities, self-reliance, and dignity. However, this access is marked by exploitation, vulnerability, and discrimination in workplaces as well as the anti-refugee rhetoric of local host communities.
  • Programming in refugee employment necessitates taking all these four perspectives into account.