Legal pathways for refugees to Europe: developments and challenges
"If countries saw benefits for themselves in terms of employment, they would probably engage in forms of resettlement or complementary pathways "Martin Wagner, Asylum Programme Manager for the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)
What is meant by “skills-based pathways for refugees” and how can they be used to reach an EU Member State?
‘Skills-based pathways’ is part of the approach developed by Cedefop, the European reference centre for Vocational Education and Training, within its work on “Complementary pathways for adult refugees: the role of VET, skills and qualifications”. If people would like to move for work reasons, they would go most of the time by the legal pathway of residence permits for work purposes. For example, people from Syria who have a good education and strong networks are the one who will probably never end up in asylum schemes in EU countries because they are able to use their own pathways. These require however a lot of documents and a job in the destination country whereas refugees usually don’t have access to all of this.
Refugees cannot usually freely move, and skills-based pathways should theoretically be a way for them to do it for work reasons. In fact, the possibilities for them to be hosted in an EU Member State by using their skills and qualifications is currently quite limited to high skilled people.
What are the first outcomes of your study on this type of pathway?
The starting point of Cedefop’s study was mostly the relocation program that was launched in Europe in the aftermath of 2015. There was an initial idea to relocate people and, to be more purposeful, to use their skills to match labor market demands of EU countries.
But the relocation program stopped in the meantime, hence why we are now looking in two different directions. Since EU law still permits to relocate people within the European Union, we are looking for possibilities, for example, to implement relocation from Greece or from Italy to other countries that are less affected by migratory pressure but have certain skills demands. On the other side, of course, we are looking at major host countries outside of the EU to see how this mechanism could be facilitated.
We started by considering the possibilities from a migration perspective and how the labor market could be part of it, meaning who could be the logical partners for such a scheme and how it could be embedded in national systems. We are now reaching the stage of having negotiations at national level, to see with whom it could work.
What challenges have you identified in the use of skills and qualifications to ease the access to the European territory?
There are probably two things of interest, the first one being the resettlement mechanism. If you look back in history, in the post-World War situation, the International Refugee Organization resettled quite a big number of people from Europe to other countries and this was mainly based on skills. Before the development of the 1951 Refugee Convention, this was a very clear thing that refugees have skills and that there were also skills demands in certain countries.
The second thing that should be mentioned is the initiative launched by the NGO “Talent Beyond Boundaries”, together with Canada and Australia. An employer who is seeking for an employee can ask for using the database of the NGO that gathers CVs from refugees, to see if a profile can match its demand. If the employer finds somebody, then the person can come with a residence permit to Canada. This works because residence permits in Canada can be of permanent nature. In the European context however they are of limited duration: the questions of “what happens with the refugee when the employment stops?” or “what happens if the refugee changes legal status from a refugee to a labor migrant?” are therefore to be asked. It is clear that there are a number of limitations.
But when you decide to resettle somebody, because of vulnerabilities or through a humanitarian program for example, the skills of the person could be used in order to see to which country the person should be resettled. The other thing that we also very much looked into is to identify future labor market needs and to make it understood to people who move, so that their arrival could be more future-oriented. There are a number of national initiatives, for example in Germany, where there will be in the future labor market demands for nursing. People who are already refugees in Germany are oriented towards this sector in order to match future demands.
What are the necessary safeguards to ensure the success of this type of program?
Overall, it must be clear that the person is a refugee and cannot return back: it must be a long perspective of stay. Also, a concrete job offer is not necessary. Skills based pathways can be an additional element for more purposeful resettlement or movements of refugees from one country to another. Furthermore, the existing divide between protection and labor mobility is not very contemporary anymore because there is never just only the protection dimension that counts. People also want and need to look at how they can develop their lives further, for example with the economic needs being part of it. Refugees are usually not just coming in order to receive protection and this aspect is a bit neglected.
Why do you think VET, skills and qualifications based pathways for refugees are a safe and durable option for the refugees as well as a chance for the hosting countries?
They are many possibilities with this type of pathways. There is a very small number of countries that are engaged in resettlement, and this a political issue for many others. But if countries would also see benefits for themselves in terms of employment then they would probably engage into forms of resettlement or complementary pathways.