Providing safe labor corridors for asylum seekers

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If you are keen to learn what works for better jobs and migration outcomes, based on the latest evidence and practice, you’ve probably already heard of the Rome Dialogues on Jobs and Migration. Giving voice to the perspectives of all stakeholders, the Rome Dialogues do not shy away from tensions and foster an informed and frank exchange that advances solutions, free from ideology.  

The first debate, held on April 3rd, 2023 in Rome, brought together a prestigious lineup of experts, practitioners, academics, and policymakers to discuss how to provide asylum seekers with safe labor corridors, including one case study from Caritas. Here are our takeaways.

A backlog of almost 900,000 EU asylum applications

For almost a decade, EU countries have been plagued with a backlog of asylum applications to process, leaving thousands of asylum seekers and host communities in limbo. Asylum applications peaked in 2017 in the aftermath of the so-called 2015-16 European refugee crises, dropped thereafter, and rose again since 2021.

In January 2023, the EU-27 totaled almost 900,000 pending asylum applications, among which 644,000 cases were awaiting first-instance decisions, the highest since early 2017. Long waiting times do not only erode the skills and morale of asylum seekers, they also pose important missed opportunities to further build their human capital and help fill local labor gaps, irrespective of the final decision on their application.

Safe labor corridors as part of the solution 

Various options are available to alleviate the pressure on national asylum agencies, several of which aim to reduce the flow of asylum seekers who cross EU borders.  The EU could further strengthen border controls, or pre-assess applications based on the asylum seeker's country of origin. A complementary approach is to screen asylum seekers outside EU borders and match them with employers experiencing shortage of workers: eligible refugees will then be allowed to enter the EU labor market legally and will be prepared to integrate in their host country and communities. 

This option seems particularly attractive. It reduces most risks faced by asylum seekers throughout their journey to legal residency in the EU: the costs and dangers of traveling to Europe, the potential negative outcome of the asylum application, and the difficulties to find work and integrate upon asylum. The approach builds on the success of legal entry routes for asylum seekers such as humanitarian and/or university corridors (Italy’s UNICORE for instance). The safe labor corridor approach for asylum seekers is currently piloted by Caritas Italiana through its program, Refugee Labor Pathways. 

A dearth of evidence 

Unfortunately, as with many of the other options, there is no rigorous evaluation of the safe-labor-corridor approach yet. Facilitating asylum seekers’ integration in the EU labor market could reduce acute labor and skills shortages faced by EU member states. But this means that different stakeholders must join forces on the ground and identify what works. The panelists in the first Rome Dialogue agreed that the solutions (i) must be hybrid and multi-layered; (ii) involve rights-based inclusive measures beyond safe corridor pathways; and (iii) be rigorously evaluated.

Stay tuned!

The April 3rd, 2023 Rome Dialogue is just the first of several exchanges dedicated to bringing the latest practices and evidence on what works for better jobs and migration outcomes. The next Rome Dialogue will take place on June 7, again in Rome, and focus on migration and agriculture. Will agricultural migrants in Europe soon be replaced by robots, or will they continue to be the backbone of several agricultural subsectors, and if so, how can agricultural migration be made more beneficial for all involved?  

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