Jordan issues record number of work permits to Syrian refugees

UNHCR

Country is at forefront of global efforts to give both refugees and host communities access to decent work

Syrian refugee Nizar (right), 25, searches for work on building sites near his home in Amman, Jordan. © © UNHCR/Lilly Carlisle

GENEVA – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today welcomed the major progress achieved in Jordan in including Syrian refugees in the country’s labour market. In 2021, a record 62,000 work permits were issued to Syrians, according to figures published by the Government and UNHCR. This is the highest annual number since work permits for Syrian refugees were introduced.

Syrian refugees have been allowed to work in several sectors of Jordan’s economy since 2016, after the international community committed funding and expanded trade facilitation under the Jordan Compact, an initiative to improve access to education and legal employment for Syrians forced to flee their homes.

“Refugees can play a significant role in the Jordanian economy, and so they should,” said the UNHCR Representative in Jordan, Dominik Bartsch. “Allowing refugees to work also reduces the need for humanitarian aid, like cash grants, which could be channeled to support the most vulnerable among them.”

Jordan hosts 760,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR. Of those, some 670,000 are from Syria, making Jordan the No. 2 host of Syrian refugees per capita globally behind Lebanon. The 62,000 work permits include 31,000 flexible ones – also a record – which allow refugees to move between similar jobs in the same sector, as well as among employers and Governorates. UNHCR Jordan works closely with the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions to inform Syrians about the benefits available.

The initiative puts Jordan at the forefront of global efforts to give both refugees and host communities access to decent work, as promoted by the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). A recent UNHCR report on progress in indicators under the GCR showed that many refugees still lack access to decent work. Globally, only 38 per cent of refugees live in countries with unrestricted access in practice to formal employment, including wage-earning jobs or self-employment.

“Even in countries with laws allowing refugees to work, getting a job is often very difficult, especially with high unemployment rates in host countries,” said Ayman Gharaibeh, UNHCR’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The devastating impact of COVID-19 on host economies is another obstacle for refugees trying to access the labour market. Increased support to host countries is critical to help economies recover, and that would make it easier for refugees to work.

“Given a chance,” he added, refugees can bring innovation, reliability, regional networks and technical know-how to the workplace and make significant contributions locally.”

Previously, Syrian refugees in Jordan were mostly allowed to work only in agriculture, construction and manufacturing. Last year, some were given exemptions to work in other sectors, including as healthcare professionals to help fight COVID. And since July 2021, Syrian refugees have been able to get work permits in all sectors open to non-Jordanians. This means they can now work in services and sales; crafts; as skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers; plant and machine workers; and in basic industries.

As Jordan rebuilds from the pandemic, UNHCR is committed to keep working with its partners and the authorities to increase employment opportunities for refugees and Jordanians alike. “With the pressing need to support Jordan’s economic recovery from COVID, it’s great to see more refugees than ever being able to contribute,” added Bartsch.

Despite this, significant challenges remain. With an unemployment rate of 23 percent in Jordan, many refugees who hold work permits still struggle to find jobs and support their families. And only Syrian refugees in Jordan are legally allowed to work. Those from other countries, including Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia, are not able to apply for permits. UNHCR Jordan is advocating for non-Syrian refugees also to be given the opportunity to work.

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