Labor market integration of vulnerable migrants: Key success factors

Source: Own analysis

Labor market integration measures for migrants and refugees vary widely across the globe. Drawing on international evidence, this article summarizes key success factors for program design and implementation.

By Kevin Hempel | June 2024

This is the first blog article of our 2-blog series on labor market integration of vulnerable migrants. You can find the second blog on existing efforts and lessons learned in Colombia here.

While the economic and migration crisis in Venezuela is no longer making headline news around the globe, it continues to be a major issue for neighbouring countries. Over seven million people have fled Venezuela in recent years, most of them to Colombia (2.5 million) and Peru (1.5 million). Whereas those leaving the country in 2014/2015 were primarily better educated Venezuelans from the middle class, people fleeing Venezuela since the complete collapse of the economy in 2017/2018, have increasingly been from low-income households with higher levels of vulnerability.

We recently worked with the World Bank to guide labor market integration efforts for Venezuelan migrants in Brazil. Brazil is 5th largest host country in Latin America with over 400,000 Venezuelans and a steady influx of about 10-15,000 people every month through the Northern border town of Pacaraima in the small state of Roraima, one of Brazil’s least developed and least populated states.

As part of this effort, we reviewed global evidence and experiences (especially from Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America) on labor market integration measures for vulnerable migrants. This article summarizes some of the key success factors for labor market integration efforts that emerged from our analysis.

10 success factors in program design

Besides regulatory issues (right to work) and relocation policies (intentional distribution of migrants within a country), Active Labor Market Policies (ALMPs) play a major role in facilitating the labor market integration of migrants and refugees across the globe. These policies and programs seek to proactively support jobseekers in finding work, for example through training, job matching, subsidized employment, or other instruments. While there is a lot of variety in how these programs are designed and implemented, international evidence points to 10 common lessons that have proven to be crucial across countries and contexts.

  1. Early intervention. Labor market integration support should be made available soon after arrival in the host country to avoid long periods of un-/underemployment and promote faster integration.
  2. Inclusive targeting. To avoid negative effects on social cohesion, new initiatives should not only be eligible to the migrant population but also to vulnerable host communities. Conversely, existing Active Labor Market Policies should be made accessible to migrants, while introducing adaptations according to their needs.
  3. Client segmentation. There can be high heterogeneity even within the migrant population (e.g., diverse needs by gender, education level). Hence, different pathways are needed for different groups of clients (e.g., intensive support for hard-to-employ; labor intermediation and more light-touch support for those closer to the labor market).
  4. Link to social support services. Interventions must combine and adequately sequence employment assistance with additional social support to help vulnerable migrants overcome basic life challenges (e.g., lack of documentation, health issues, housing) that can impede their ability to look for, find, and keep work.
  5. Work-centered approaches. Approaches that emphasize practical exposure to the labor market (incl. on-the-job training) should be prioritized over lengthy vocational training which can have a “lock-in effect” (i.e., people stop looking for work while in training, negatively affecting their employment prospects). This is particularly relevant in less regulated labor markets where formal qualifications are not legally required to exercise certain occupations.
  6. Integrated language training. Language and integration training should not delay labor market entry; i.e. the timing and duration should be set up in a way that language training can be integrated or combined with workplace experience (e.g., on-the-job training, part-time work). Ideally, training contents are also adapted to the specific needs of different groups (e.g., youth, parents) and tailored to workplace needs.
  7. Incentives. Programs must mitigate barriers to participation and retention that arise from participants’ economic and time constraints (e.g., pressure to meet daily subsistence needs); for example, through small stipends for food, transportation, internet and childcare assistance.
  8. Wrap-around services, incl. post-placement integration support. This mainly includes counseling or coaching to help migrants cope with life challenges, as well as post-placement support (to the participant and the employer) during activation measures and after job placement to prevent dropout.
  9. Easy access to services. Given limited mobility, financial, and time constraints, support services should be provided in proximity to where vulnerable migrants live as well as offer flexible schedules (to minimize transaction and opportunity costs).
  10. Firms need support, too. To address companies’ limited information, legal uncertainty, potential stereotypes, and administrative difficulties in hiring foreign workers, interventions should also provide support services to employers, thus expanding the pool of job and practical learning opportunities.

 The main message here is this: The lives of vulnerable migrants are very complicated. Hence, as for other vulnerable groups, just offering employment support is not enough. Activities to foster migrants’ employability must be embedded in broader support activities and delivered in a way that makes minimizes barriers to participation. 

Getting program delivery right

Besides questions about program design, there are also common lessons from across the globe on the key stakeholders to be involved in implementation of labor market integration efforts for vulnerable migrants. Overall, international experiences suggest that central governments are usually not well equipped to tackle this issue alone, due to limited experience with and trust among the target group, limited capacity to implement multifaceted employment support interventions as well as budgetary constraints.

Therefore, there is generally a need for strengthening the institutions involved and for building partnerships between national and local governments, humanitarian actors, civil society and the private sector to facilitate migrants’ labor market integration.

  1. Institutional development for public sector agencies. Many countries have realized that they need to strengthen the capacity of Public Employment Services (PES) to adapt different service areas to the new target group (e.g., profiling, counselling, employer services, etc.) and enhance information systems and data exchange between PES and other public services (e.g., immigration, social assistance). In addition, it is often important to work with other institutions (e.g., social security administration, banks, etc.) to facilitate migrants’ access to relevant documentation and services (incl. bank account) needed for formal employment.
  2. Program delivery through non-public providers. International experience suggests that Public Employment Services (even in developed countries) are not able to provide all necessary services, especially more intense and personalized services needed for marginalized populations such as vulnerable migrants. Therefore, in most countries, non-public service providers, such as civil society organizations, private employment services, and private training providers, play a key role in implementing labor market integration efforts for vulnerable migrants (e.g., through grants and service contracts from the government).
  3. Leveraging business associations. Business associations have also played an important role in many countries, for instance by offering support to member companies related to Human Resource policies and contractual procedures to hire vulnerable migrants, developing guidelines and tools to facilitate training and hiring of migrants by employers, publicly recognizing companies who made efforts to integrate migrants into their workforce, and providing guidance on doing business to migrant entrepreneurs.
  4. Leveraging local government. Local governments can also play a key role in migrant integration efforts, as they are directly affected by the large influx of people. Common functions relevant to labor market integration of vulnerable migrants include: (i) mapping and coordinating stakeholders and available services, (ii) prioritizing labor market integration within municipal strategies (e.g., local economic development plans), (iii) facilitating access to local services (e.g., documentation, health, children’s education) as a basis for employment, (iv) providing (co)funding to a range of local employment support initiatives, (v) municipal infrastructure and services (for instance regarding migrants’ housing and mobility), and (vi) the municipality’s role as an employer.

About the author:

Kevin Hempel is the Founder and Managing Director of Prospera Consulting, a boutique consulting firm working towards stronger policies and programs to facilitate the labor market integration of disadvantaged groups. You can follow him on LinkedIn.