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Ban on work permits, refugee status duality for non-Syrian refugees ‘will see changes in July’

Yemeni refugee in Jordan
Yemeni refugees in Jordan and all other non-Syrian asylum seekers cannot combine between an official work permit and a refugee status (Photo: UNHCR)
AMMAN — Jordan is home to over 700,000 refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), many of whom have lived in the Kingdom for a decade or longer. But finding reliable and legal work as a refugee remains a persistent challenge. اضافة اعلان

Dammag Al-Baramak arrived in Jordan by himself from Yemen in late 2011. He was able to find work in Jordan in the food sector. “I was able to obtain a work permit very easily” in 2015, he said in an interview with Jordan News.

However, due to his low income, he still relied on support from UNHCR in addition to his legal work. In 2018, due to a policy change, all Yemeni refugees were forced to choose between eligibility for work permits and official registration with UNHCR, which allows them access to specialized funding and support.

“It affected our stability,” Baramak said. “We left Yemen to get stability. […] How could you give up the registration that gives you protection to have a low chance of getting a job that will give you a smaller chance of stability?” 

Baramak is just one of thousands of refugees that decided to withdraw from UNHCR’s protection to pursue a work permit and residency on their own. Inability to obtain a work permit may push refugees into work in the informal sector. 

In contrast to Baramak and other non-Syrian refugees, Syrian refugees are eligible to obtain work permits while maintaining refugee status. Since 2016 Jordan has issued over 232,000 work permits for Syrian refugees. Mohammed Zyoud, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor told Jordan News, “According to the official instructions of the Ministry of Labor, we have a list of professions that allow for refugees and migrants to work in.” He explained that since 2017, employment offices have operated inside refugee camps, and that certain documents and an online application are required on the part of the employer in order to issue a work permit. 

Ibrahim Al-Shakani, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Jordan late during 2012, emphasized the importance of both levers of support: UNHCR and his own work.

“We need the security of UNHCR; however, we need to make money to survive,” he said in an interview with Jordan News. Shakani and his mother travelled from the city of Daraa, in the southwestern part of Syria, to the Syria-Jordan border crossing, then to Zaatari camp in Mafraq. Shakani was one of many refugees who received a work permit in 2016, allowing him to gain enough financial stability to start a family of his own. 

“Obviously, it is a concern for us. As UNHCR, we are a protection agency; we are here to provide protection for refugees and asylum seekers due to the fact there are conflicts in their home countries,” said Lilly Carlisle, UNHCR spokesperson, in an interview with Jordan News. “Saying that a refugee will not be able to work and have refugee status at the same time is a concern for us.”

“The reason why the Syrian refugees can obtain a work permit is because of the Jordan Compact, which was [approved] in 2016,” she explained. “It was a large international compact where donors came forward and provided direct funding to the government of Jordan,” which, in return, opened up job opportunities for Syrian refugees. 

Before the Jordan Compact started, a 2014 report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that 99% of Syrian refugees work outside the formal labor market – working without a permit in largely unregulated sectors, which can expose them to poor working conditions and low wages. As of 2020, around a third of registered Syrian refugees hold work permits, according to the World Bank.

UNHCR is currently in partnership with the Jordanian government to establish solutions for refugees’ lack of financial stability. 

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been exploring and looking to see if there are any additional opportunities for refugees to work outside of the sectors they are normally allowed to work in,” said Carlisle. 

“Coming July, through funding from the World Bank to the government of Jordan, there are going to be some flexible work permit schemes, meaning refugees can get work permits through the trade union, rather than a particular employer,” Carlisle added.

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