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Project News: Survey highlights occupational segregation of refugees in Austria

10 January 2018


Debates about educational profiles and labour market potential of refugees arriving in Europe continue to be pivotal for practitioners, academics and policy makers alike. While it has become clear that refugees are a diverse population and European countries differ greatly regarding numbers of asylum applications and respective country of origin groups, studies about the socio-economic profiles and integration trajectories of refugees in Europe are scarce.

The ICMPD-led project FIMAS aimed at closing this gap between the need for data and insights and the limited empirical data available. To this end, a survey among 1,200 recognised refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection was carried out in five federal states in Austria between August 2016 and May 2017, based on face-to-face interviews in Arabic, Dari, Russian, Chechen, German and English.

The target group comprised refugees having arrived recently – most respondents between 2011 and 2016 – who were of working age and among the four main citizenship groups of refugees registered as unemployed: Syria, Afghanistan, the Russian Federation and Iraq.

Two major results of the study stand out. First, and counter-intuitively, higher educational achievement before arrival does not result in higher employment chances on the Austrian labour market for refugees.  Indeed, lower educational levels translated into higher employment rates, and those who had worked in elementary occupations or in agriculture before coming to Austria had the highest chances of employment, whereas managers and technicians were among those with the lowest chances. On the other hand, the official recognition of qualifications and completed education in Austria did show significant effects on chances of employment. Together, these findings point to the devaluation of foreign qualifications.

Second, those who were able to find work were strongly concentrated in a few sectors. Almost half of the respondents worked in elementary occupations in their first employment in Austria. Current positions held also included a third of all employed working in elementary occupations such as cook’s assistants, cleaners and manufacturing workers. One out of four respondents worked in services and sales. Managers and academic professions were rare. In other words, labour market segmentation translates into occupational segregation and mismatch between qualifications and positions held are a reality for many, indeed most refugees.

Over time however, labour market participation increases and mismatch decreases. After five to eight years, the labour force participation rate of refugees is expected to reach that of the general population. Employment rates take longer to converge – so while most refugees are employed or actively looking after a few years of learning the language and building networks, gainful employment remains hard to find for some.

Download the full report in German here