Young migrants and their struggle to access the labour market

Both migration and youth unemployment in the European Union remain high; in March alone, 66,908 asylum claims were made, and 3.9 million young people remained unemployed. Yet initiatives aimed at managing these two issues are usually looked at in isolation. To keep the conversation going and draw attention to the vulnerable position young migrants tend to find themselves in, Social Platform members Eurodiaconia and the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) organised a conference on ’Improving labour market integration and inclusion of young migrants’ on the 3 May, bringing together representatives of European institutions, national governments, trade unions and civil society.

While policies aimed at integrating people in the work force generally fall within the competence of European Member States, existing EU policies aimed at improving labour market access for young people – such as the Youth Guarantee, the Erasmus+ programme and the Integration Action Plan – are not tailed to the specific needs of young migrants. On the one hand, racial discrimination and the expectation that migrants should be self-supporting to avoid being a burden on society are significant barriers to successful labour market integration, and are factors that existing plans and policies fail to address. On the other hand, young migrants have more complex needs not comparable to those of young Europeans, ranging from trauma and psychological support needs due to their journey, to the recognition of previously obtained skills and qualifications.

At the conference the Quality for Hope project in Vienna was been introduced, aimed at facilitating access to the labour market for young migrant women aged between 15 and 21. The project targets young migrants with low education and enables them to continue learning by taking different courses, including language and personal skills development courses, for periods up to 24 months with the aim of making the successful transition into the labour market afterwards. While a handful of the 70 participants have already made the successful transition to the labour market, early marriages, being young mothers and/or the desire to begin a family at a young age hamper the success of the project.

One group completely falling outside exiting initiatives aimed at boosting youth employment are young undocumented migrants. While in theory existing rules and regulations guarantee compulsory education for all children irrespective of their migration status, laws, policies and initiatives cease to apply to undocumented migrants once they turn 18, making the transition to adulthood particularly difficult. Examples were given of countries in which undocumented migrants cannot graduate from university because they are unable to enter mandatory internship programmes. In situations like these, turning to the irregular labour market with all its risks of exploitation is the only option for many. In order to not only prevent human rights violations, but also to unleash full potential of young migrants, it is therefore more important than ever to make higher education and training courses accessible for everyone and to find more ways to include undocumented migrants in the work force in order to enable them to escape the irregular labour market.

This year, and in the context of the European Commission’s fitness check on legal migration, Social Platform with the support of its members will be working on and advocating for the rights of low- and medium-skilled workers, who are currently barely covered under the existing European legal framework.