8: The policy dimension: lessons learnt and ways forward


This chapter presents and discusses recommendations for an optimal policy mix to inform the design of policies and programmes that will provide post-2014 migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, with greater protection through decent work in the years to come. The chapter will revisit the book’s underpinning theoretical framework (presented in the introductory chapter) to explain the role of concrete measures to make efficient use of the skills of migrants, the channels through which these affect the labour market integration of (resettled) refugees and asylum seekers, as well as the combination and sequence of measures leading to the best outcome for a given group of beneficiaries (considering skill levels, gender, marital status and age), taking into consideration issues of institutional specificity and transferability to diverse country and institutional contexts. Lastly, the chapter will present recommendations for bilateral or multi-country cooperation programmes among countries of origin, transit and destination, focusing on the labour market integration of post-2014 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and addressing the needs of both beneficiaries and host communities.


The implications of the record migratory flows to Europe witnessed in 2015 and 2016 are still being felt today. Addressing migrants’ labour market integration remains a long-standing challenge in many European countries. Migration and integration are complex processes that affect the security and welfare of a wide range of actors, from migrants to individuals and communities in both host and origin countries. This implies that migration responses are seldom simply about migration, but also about a slew of other public policy concerns, as migration and integration do not occur in a vacuum. Responses to migration and integration are embedded in national institutions, which can and often do vary among nations and evolve over time. The development of national, regional and international institutions and policies is primarily a political issue frequently reflecting electoral purposes; concurrently, policies and attitudes towards migrants are frequently founded, in some cases and at least in part, on prejudices and strong value-related emotions.

What can the analyses and case studies in this book tell us about the nature of, and methods for enhancing, policymaking ties between migration and integration considering these circumstances? There are two key insights. First, the case studies in the book have clearly underlined the necessity of paying attention to cross-country disparities in legal institutions (Chapter 3) that mediate the interrelationships between migration and integration public discourse, and policymaking. There are also significant disparities between countries in terms of the effects of welfare and labour market policies (Chapter 4), as well as the role of social partners (Chapters 5 and 6), all of which have consequences for how solutions to facilitate migrants’ integration are created and may be structured. Recognising these distinct institutional settings is required before organising and supporting policy-relevant research in a way that is credible and useful for public discourse and policymaking processes.

Second, the fieldwork research conducted as part of the project shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has overshadowed policy debates on migration issues, yet it is inextricably linked with the present and future of migration governance within the EU and globally. The pandemic is affecting the health, social conditions, job prospects, language training of already vulnerable migrants, as well as their labour market and broader social integration. It is also highly affecting public opinion. When the COVID-19 pandemic began early in 2020, populists in Europe attempted to exploit the crisis for political gain, using migrants as scapegoats (Dayant, 2020). With vulnerabilities and inequalities worsening long after the end of the pandemic, there is a risk of a new backlash in public opinion against migrants similar to the one that European societies experienced during the post-2014 influx of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Therefore, understanding how European countries are able to work out an evidence-based way to deal with migration and asylum – rather than a prejudice-based one – is crucial for scientists, policymakers, stakeholders and society at large.

With these critical background insights in mind, this chapter identifies key lessons that can be drawn from the diversity of the country case studies investigated in the book and makes a number of observations for researchers, policy practitioners and other participants to help strengthen the links between integration and migration. We argue that these lessons can point to ‘ways forward’ in attempts to make migration and integration policy and public debates more research-informed. The ultimate goal is normative in nature, aiming to raise awareness about how, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can sustain decent livelihoods for migrants and refugees, leaving no one behind. A fruitful strategy in that direction would be the development of a fully fledged normative agenda that specifies sound standards and an incentive system for all relevant stakeholders. At this point, we can only suggest where to look for the building blocks that will allow the starting steps to bring about the essential adjustments.

Key lessons and areas for action

Policy investments into the labour market and social integration of post-2014 migrants have long been considered as crucial for the long-term sustainability of the European workforce. Various empirical studies (for example, Kahanec and Zimmermann, 2009, 2016; Zimmermann, 2014; Blau and Mackie, 2016), before the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, had pointed to the economic opportunities of migration and, on this basis, suggest ideas of how Europe could achieve a fair and effective allocation of migrants that preserves European principles and European unity. While the current period is a very different situation than the one Europe faced during the so-called migration crisis of 2014–2015 (although it would be more appropriate to refer to a multilevel policy system crisis rather than a ‘migration crisis’), these empirical findings must be taken into consideration in the vein of evidence-based policymaking by national and European policymakers in their efforts to establish a well-functioning integration policy in the post-COVID-19 era. Policymakers and civil society stakeholders can capitalise on several lessons learnt – first and foremost, the value of taking a step back, mobilising resources, and rethinking barriers and enablers fundamental to potential integration of migrants and ways to build durable multistakeholder synergies and results. There is a possible eruption of a second big migration crisis due to the economic consequences that COVID-19 will eventually leave behind (Marmefelt, 2020) and the accelerated climate change (Voegele, 2021) especially in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. Therefore, crafting the next generation of integration policies at national and EU levels becomes of high importance in the post-COVID-19 recovery phase. In view of this, the following pointers to best practice have been put forward.

Integrating migrants’ needs in post-COVID-19 recovery plans and strategies

In all the European countries studied in this book, the COVID-19 crisis has reinforced a number of key challenges migrants were facing even before the pandemic – such as language barriers and limited access to information, uncertainty related to their employment and legal status, ineffective administrative and legal structures, health insurance issues, the absence of a supportive family or community network, isolation, increased vulnerability and precarity in the face of work exploitation, a general atmosphere of xenophobia in society and (perceived) cultural barriers, and limited access to institutional support in situations of abuse (refer to Bagavos and Kourachanis, 2020; Collini et al, 2020; Mexi, 2020; Ndomo et al, 2020; Spyratou, 2020; Gheorghiev et al, 2021). More particularly, fieldwork in the seven countries analysed shows that the pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerable and precarious position of migrants especially by weakening their legal status (mainly temporary migrants), rights, opportunities and socioeconomic standing (Federico, 2018; SIRIUS Policy Brief No 2, 2019). Precarity has both immediate and future implications for migrants’ labour market integration. As policymakers continue their efforts to address the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that migrants and refugees are integrated in recovery plans and strategies (Zenner and Wickramage, 2020) as full participants to ensure inclusive and sustainable recovery (European Economic and Social Committee, 2020). The next Multiannual Financial Framework (2021–2027), which has been paired with the Next Generation EU initiative that aims to assist member states with post-COVID-19 recovery is an opportunity to fund and design labour market policies that are attuned to the need of migrants. Our findings show that existing national policies do not adequately support and prepare the migrants for entry and integration into labour markets (see Chapter 4). For instance, job matching and career counselling services (offered as part of the integration programme) sometimes push migrants and refugees to jobs that are deemed low status (such as cleaning and driving), or which are otherwise perceived as suitable for non-natives (such as healthcare). We find that there is tension between public policy goals of trying to push migrants into work as quickly as possible, and finding jobs that match the ambitions and potential of individual migrants. In some cases, there were also indications that employment services case workers undervalued migrants’ and refugees’ potential to work in skilled jobs. In countries with strong active labour market policies, such as Finland, Denmark and Switzerland, the assistance was valued in some respects by the migrants, but also some degree of coercion was felt, in terms of being pushed into jobs deemed appropriate by case workers. This was particularly a problem in Denmark, where migrants felt the government’s policy of ‘jobs first’ was pushing them into positions which did not reflect their education and skills. While some of this might reflect market demand for certain professions, which case workers are obliged to consider, it might also indicate a need for training case workers to value migrant skills.

Migrants need to be part – as a target population – of the next generation of labour market integration strategies and programmes, as this can contribute to the realisation of equality and social justice. In general, the eligibility of specific migrant groups to participate in labour market integration programmes should be expanded. The research discussed in this book has found that the eligibility varies from country to country, as do the availability of specific services. In some countries, such as the Czech Republic and Denmark, programmes are mainly offered to newly arrived refugees, while in others such as in Finland and Greece they are offered to all job-seeking migrants. In the United Kingdom, programmes are only offered to resettled refugees, which have been chosen in collaboration with the United Nations. Groups that could be included are:

  • Asylum seekers who have not yet received their asylum decision. Because of the long wait for asylum decisions in many countries, extending eligibility for these programmes to asylum seekers with good prospects for a positive decision might allow more rapid integration, reducing the burden on public finances.

  • Economic migrants: although they already have work, and do not necessarily have time to engage in integration training, many would like better access to language training, which would allow them better job opportunities.

  • Parents who are caring for children sometimes miss out on integration programmes because they are not in the job market during their eligibility period, or do not have the time. More flexibility in the organisation of the programmes, or in the eligibility period, might improve access for this group (see Bontenbal and Lillie, 2019; SIRIUS Policy Brief No 3, 2019).

Furthermore, what the findings show is that to enhance responsiveness of policies, national authorities should involve all stakeholders, including municipalities, civil society and migrants and refugees in the planning, monitoring and implementation of a long-term integration strategy and programmes that will strengthen all aspects of integration, combat racism and xenophobic attitudes, and help all people recover from the pandemic (Human Rights Watch, 2021). The crisis, thus, provides an opportunity to value migrants for their crucial contribution to societies and economies, while reconsidering and tackling the structural barriers to their labour market integration.

Ensuring quality employment and fair working conditions for migrant workers

Migrants are significantly disadvantaged due to weaker protection of rights, precarious short-term contracts and weaker unionisation. Ensuring that new jobs are quality ones that allow migrants to enjoy a decent standard of living and contribute to their wellbeing and to a robust economy should lie at the core of an inclusive, rights-based and human-centric integration agenda. Job quality was already a concern before the COVID-19 crisis and even before the 2008–2009 global economic crisis. At the turn of the century, there was a political consensus in Europe, set out in the Nice Council Conclusions (December 2000), around the idea of quality work as a necessary element in delivering competitiveness and full employment. In 2010, following the adoption of the Europe 2020 Strategy, the European Commission’s Communication identified better job quality and working conditions as one of the four key priorities for achieving the EU 2020 employment target. Yet, the fallout from the global economic crisis, and the internal devaluations and fiscal consolidation policies adopted, have led to an erosion of the European Social Model, and the notion of quality jobs appears to have taken a backseat since then (Vaughan-Whitehead, 2015; Lehto-Komulainen, 2018). Poor-quality jobs can lead to income insecurity, social exclusion, poverty in old age and poor physical and mental health. Concurrently, quality jobs are an essential feature of a well-functioning economy. Quality jobs give workers better job satisfaction, improved skills and greater motivation, which in turn lead to stronger, more productive and more innovative enterprises (OECD, 2014). This period of crisis in which we find ourselves is not only a threat but also an opportunity to lay the basis of a better socioeconomic model with a strong focus on migrants and their situation. Our findings show that the limited political will and capacities of state institutions, including local governments, to craft and implement enabling policies, along with weak governance arrangements and spaces for the co-construction of policy, have impacted the possibilities of designing and implementing collaborations to solve problems.

Strong multistakeholder dialogue and continued efforts are needed to put forward a Roadmap for Quality and Decent Employment with appropriate measures at the European and national levels and with specific targeted interventions to invest in quality and sustainable employment to counter the increase of in-work poverty, precariousness, poor working conditions and labour market segmentation currently facing migrants in several countries. Such a Roadmap should be course-altering, but also a catalyst for needed change. Policymakers need to empower migrants to advance decent working conditions and enhance jobs security, through prioritising such aspects in the European Labour Authority. In this context, it is also important that governments and social partners ensure that international labour standards (ILO, 2020a), the promotion and the realisation of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, other relevant international labour standards, and human rights more broadly – as a framework for ensuring decent work and inclusive integration – are at the centre of national responses and recovery plans in the post-COVID-19 era. More efforts are required to build and establish a common understanding about the necessity to promote equality of opportunity of treatment for migrant workers with regard to fundamental principles and rights at work and ensure – in accordance with internationally agreed normative standards, such as the widely ratified ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111) – that migrants are not being subject to discrimination, stigmatisation and harassment in their workplace based on their ethnicity, skin colour, country of origin, occupation or travel history (International Commission of Jurists, 2020).

Valuing the contribution of civil society organisations and establishing appropriate tracking and monitoring systems

Our research conducted before and during the pandemic has found that the third sector represents a key pillar in mitigating several of the integration barriers experienced by migrants (see Chapter 5), having an influence on policymaking both directly but also indirectly. In this case, civil society organisations’ interventions can be used to ‘legitimise’ policy decisions that have become controversial and emotionally charged, but they can also be used to shift mindsets in the other way, making conversations more fact-based and less politicised. Depending on the institutional context, therefore, civil society action might be a critical and integrated component in the implementation of migration and integration policy.

The importance of civil society organisations has increased since 2014, though – as our findings show – disabling environments associated with their funding, weak initial conditions, assets and competencies have rendered some civil society organisations not only inherently fragile but also amenable to those populations at the bottom of the ladder in terms of endowments and capabilities. Chapter 5 findings provide strong evidence of noteworthy best practices about how civil society organisations are able to successfully address several of the challenges faced by migrants and act as effective actors in policymaking and agents of social change. Evidence also shows a positive appreciation on the part of migrants themselves for the service that civil society organisations provide and the role they play. Our fieldwork finds that civil society organisations work as important enablers of migrants’ and refugees’ labour market integration, especially in those areas not covered by public policies. More particularly, civil society organisations have been found to be important language course providers for post-2014 migrants and refugees, and thanks to their social, legal and administrative guidance, civil society organisations help migrants and refugee groups in overcoming ineffective administrative and legal structures. These activities are provided by the majority of civil society organisations across the seven countries. Several civil society organisations in these countries also assist migrants with the recruitment process, providing courses and advice on how to prepare for an interview, how to write a CV or how to draft a cover letter. Furthermore, civil society organisations assist migrants in their efforts to have their skills and qualifications recognised. Additionally, by providing mentorship, training programmes, volunteering or even direct employment, civil society organisations contribute to the development of skills and competencies of migrants and provide platforms to enhance their agency and autonomy. Overall, civil society organisations – the support of which is often vital as regards refugees and asylum seekers – have direct experience with and knowledge of the impact the recent crisis is having on so many people who are vulnerable in one form or another.

All in all, two key conclusions derive from these good practices: the first is that civil society organisations are an important bridge between migrants, public authorities, experts and employers. They must use that experience and knowledge to monitor and assess what is happening and work towards the articulation and development of inclusive integration that ensures every person’s fundamental right to live a life of dignity and fully participate in society, and that allows migrants to overcome the sense of instability that is spreading everywhere and to regain control over their lives and futures. Ultimately, policy responses based upon robust monitoring, impact assessment and sex-disaggregated data can support more evidence-based economic policy measures. Recognising this particular role of civil society organisations in the wider migration and integration policy landscape requires, first and foremost, shaping enabling policy environments, so that civil society organisations do not end up working in silos. Civil society organisations that provide services to migrants experiencing exclusion are in a position to give a voice to the experience of the people they serve, a voice that tends to have few outlets for expression or influence in national public discourses, as our research finds – and these accounts can have an impact within and beyond country borders. A second conclusion is that the promotion of civil society organisations in decision-making structures – through channels of policy co-production – can be a significant tool for achieving social inclusion and cohesion with a strong focus on migrants, from local to European levels. While important, this also raises some issues, such as how to institutionalise civil society organisations in governmental structures; and how to establish permanent and effective mechanisms for civil society actors’ participation in policy management, which should be treated cautiously so as to avoid the emergence of antagonistic relations between the civil society organisations and state actors. In this time of crisis recovery, the growth of the third sector often requires public policies to recognise the particularities and added value of the civil society organisations working with migrants in economic, social and societal terms (for example, forms of governance, outreach of vulnerable groups). As several civil society organisations heavily depend on public funding, it is worrying that many governments are currently reallocating funds to pandemic management and that this may mean that civil society organisations’ budgets are likely to be trimmed and their operations will be adversely affected.

Enhancing migrants’ representation and voice and promoting their labour market integration

EU and national leaders and parliamentarians must listen and engage actively with those migrants and refugees whose voices have been neglected and they have been systematically left out of labour market discourses and policymaking. Informal work arrangements and limited bargaining power can put migrants at higher risk of losing their jobs or seeing their pay cut during crises. Migrants need to be collectively and individually empowered through the support of their collective action and unionisation (ILO, 2020d). Enhancing representation and voice means enhancing the capacity of migrants to engage with various dimensions of the political arena, such as voice, contestation, advocacy, co-construction, negotiation, networking, and building and sustaining coalitions and alliances. Given the depth and duration of the COVID-19 crisis, employers’ organisations and trade unions can play an essential role in the labour market integration of migrants. Migrant-led organisations need support to take equal part in decisions over rights at work, including representatives of migrant workers among stakeholders in the European Labour Authority, and by promoting migrants’ representation in unions and collective agreements. Policy responses need to guarantee better the rights of migrants to freedom of association and collective bargaining which are crucial to negotiating fairer working conditions and addressing decent work deficits.

Strengthening social dialogue mechanisms can help to ensure the realisation of equity and social justice

Chapter 6 provides evidence for only a few cases of social dialogue having occurred across the seven countries in the field of labour migration, before the outbreak of the pandemic. Yet, social dialogue has an important role to play in building consensus on the necessary policy and legal reforms and ensuring social justice and decent work for all, especially in times of crisis recovery (Papadakis et al, 2020). Social dialogue processes and mechanisms are also critical to contributing to the realisation of inclusive rights-based integration for migrants, especially migrant workers in the informal economy in the agriculture industry of Southern regions who – as Chapter 6 findings show – are in extremely precarious situations, often not covered or insufficiently covered by formal social protection arrangements, and who lack voice and representation in social dialogue processes.

Strengthening social dialogue in this respect requires enhancing the capacity of state actors and workers and employers’ organisations to take action on two fronts. First, the development of integrated strategies to support formalisation of work. This is crucial for the migrants who generally have difficulty finding employment in formal work. Meanwhile, the talent of many skilled migrants in the EU remains significantly underutilised, which is connected to problems relating to qualification recognition as well as prejudice in recruitment procedures. As a result, significant improvements in integration policies, particularly in the areas of education and training, will be required in order to better utilise the potential that migrants bring, while also contributing to economic growth and sustainable development.

Second, addressing the entire range of priorities to improve migrants’ labour market integration prospects. As our fieldwork and interviews with social partners show (see Chapter 6), social partners in all seven countries studied stress the need to have more language class provision for migrants, but also different migration policies, given that legislation makes it very difficult for third country nationals, and in particular for asylum seekers, to enter the labour market and gain regular, stable and decent employment. Social partners consider also that better job search support services, along with skills matching and skills profiling, and job mentoring, could improve the employment situation of third country nationals. Furthermore, enhancing the agency of migrants through information campaigns, enriching capacities of migrants to represent themselves in trade unions and supporting trade unions to be more open to migrants and to effectively overcome language and cultural barriers have also been found to be critical aspects of an inclusive integration policy. Additionally, anti-discrimination and anti-exploitation policies (or a more effective implementation of these) would help too. In general, the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, and especially its devastating impact on the livelihoods and incomes of migrant workers and enterprise owners, add even greater urgency to the promotion of sustainable formal employment opportunities in European economies (International Organization of Migration, 2020). Coordination among social partners, inclusion of migrants’ associations in social dialogue activities (currently, in some countries, for example Italy and Greece, the participation of migrant associations in such activities is relatively marginal) can help voice their need beside the important role played by the third sector.

Prioritising social investment and economic stimulus to support inclusive rights-based policies

Social innovation and investment, especially at the local level, has a positive, preventive impact on the health and wellbeing of migrants and refugees, ensuring long-term savings for public budgets and improving the labour force’s skills (Patuzzi, 2020). This may include, inter alia, the introduction of common social standards at the EU level,1 emphasising that inclusive societies are more resilient societies and recognising that inclusive growth is not only about the most effective ways of promoting growth, but also about closing the gaps between those who are powerful and better off and those who are poor and excluded. National recovery policies and incentive packages should prioritise social investment programmes that foster innovation while targeting migrant workers and enterprise owners. In this area, national policymakers should act proactively and exploit the new knowledge generated through EU peer learning and the use of existing EU governance frameworks that promote the exchange of best practices and provide guidance to member states – particularly the Open Method of Coordination mechanisms and venues for collaboration. These are vital tools for pushing for support of innovative migrant-focused social and employment policies, along with considering how integration benchmarking architectures can effectively mature into national and local policymaking tools to promote the integration of migrants.2 More broadly, as the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic can lead to declining wages and deteriorating working conditions overall (ILO, 2020b), the economic support measures provided to address these effects should ensure that migrants are not left out and that economic stimulus is not only available to nationals. Civil society organisations and human and civil rights movements should be aware of this danger and put resources into advocacy supporting migrants’ rights.

Building socially responsive interventions and systems of support that are inclusive of migrant workers

Given the depth and duration of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact particularly on vulnerable groups (especially refugee women; see ILO, 2020c), the resilience of social protection systems must be improved to enable them to provide protection to the entire population in need. The evidence in Chapters 3 and 4 shows that unemployment benefits are another important element for understanding the legal barriers and enablers or best practices for the labour market integration of migrants and refugees. Noteworthily, Switzerland and Italy are the countries that present fewest restrictions in accessing unemployment benefits: all are entitled to such benefits in the same way as nationals, except undocumented migrants and asylum seekers who are not allowed to work in Switzerland. Moreover, in Greece, refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and long-term economic migrants can access the unemployment register and receive all benefits and services in the same way as Greek citizens do, whereas asylum seekers can do so only after having completed the application procedure. This is somewhat similar to the situation in the United Kingdom, where refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary and national temporary protections are treated equally with British citizens, but long-term economic migrants must be granted indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom, unlike asylum seekers. Similarly, in the Czech Republic solely refugees, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection and long-term economic migrants are entitled to unemployment benefits. Concurrently, in Denmark, only refugees and long-term economic migrants holding a permanent residency permit can receive unemployment benefits, while, in Finland, unemployment benefits are made conditional upon permanent residency, which excludes asylum seekers and short-term economic migrants. Overall, while many countries have extended social protection coverage to nationals, migrants have been found to be less likely to be covered on par by social protection mechanisms because of discrimination and the type of jobs they have (ILO, 2020e). Including migrants in social protection measures and other risk-pooling mechanisms, including cash transfers and social health protection, in parity with nationals, is crucial to preventing them from experiencing further downward slips and ensuring equity and solidarity in financing. Further effort should also be encouraged in the provision of child and elderly care services to ease migrant women’s entry into the labour market – this is important for countries such as the Czech Republic, Greece and Italy where the gender gap is still large and not only for migrants, but also for natives.

In general, as a best practice, our findings call for stepped-up social protection interventions, especially for those who have suffered more from the health emergency, which would represent a promising path towards reducing social and labour market exclusion for migrants and inequality, as well as acting as a basis for labour market inclusiveness during recovery.

Recognising migrants’ skills and their positive contribution to post-COVID-19 recovery

Our research conducted before the COVID-19 crisis shows that, although migrants and refugees have a variety of skills, they often encounter difficulties in the countries that host them to gain recognition of their qualifications, skills and diplomas acquired in their home countries (see Chapter 4). In particular, as a good practice, only Denmark, Switzerland and Italy (with the exception of asylum seekers) are open to the recognition of foreign qualifications; yet, in Italy the recognition process, being long and complex, substantially jeopardises the legitimate expectations of migrants. The United Kingdom recognises exclusively qualifications from selected countries of origin, on the basis of a common table of conversion. In the Czech Republic and Greece, the formal equalisation of qualifications is substantially undermined by the requirement of the official certificates issued by competent authorities, which is an unreasonable requirement for refugees and asylum seekers who often escape their countries in chaotic circumstances or whose countries’ administrations have collapsed through conflict and violence. In between lies Finland, where it is not diplomas but proof of citizenship that is required, as to allow for fair conversions (again, a requirement that is very difficult to fulfil for refugees and asylum seekers). Noticeably, in all countries where this is allowed, migrants must specifically apply for recognition and, in the most favourable of cases, such as in Finland, this is done during the permit application process. Considering the digital and green transformations,3 as well as the demand for new skills and jobs, there is an urgent need to address the barriers to recognising migrants’ contribution and skills, as this issue is expected to have significant negative effects on countries’ growth capacity well into the future, as indicated several times in the book case studies.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, migrants have been at the frontlines in many of the occupations that have proved essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response, that is, in medical professions and emergency services, food retail, logistics and agriculture (Baglioni et al, 2020; PICUM, 2020). On average, in the European Union, 13 per cent of all key workers are migrants (Fasani and Mazza, 2020), while countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy and the Czech Republic depend on foreign-born workers in the critical sector of healthcare services (OECD, 2019). As countries emerge from the pandemic, issues of migrants’ skills and qualifications should acquire importance and be dealt with vis-à-vis the much-needed contributions that migrants can continue to provide to our societies and economies, ensuring long-term recovery. European countries and institutions have a strong interest in investing in migrant-inclusive labour markets and in embedding the structural contribution of, and reliance on migrants, including refugee groups, in national skills-related policy design. Recognition of prior home country education and experience, both in terms of formal recognition of certificates and employer recognition in recruiting, should improve. Visible in all the seven countries was a perceived need by migrants to start their education from the beginning again, because of a devaluing of foreign qualifications. More should be done to convert foreign qualifications into domestic equivalents, and to promote to employers the value of these qualifications. Programmes at education institutions designed to bring foreign qualifications up to local standards should be considered. Looking ahead, we found a strong consensus on the normative and pragmatic reasons and potential value of integrating migrants into European labour markets among the different stakeholders, which underline the awareness of the issue (see also ILO, 2020f). It remains to be seen whether such consensus could be taken as an opportunity for building a more inclusive, rights-based, integration agenda and shaping a future that avoids repeating the errors of the past.

Conclusion: Moving forward

To change the realities of migrants and refugees in European labour markets, a comprehensive approach is required that addresses the interconnection of migration and integration policies and other policy areas, as well as the interrelatedness of the institutional context and the roles of various policy and civil society actors. Overlooking issue complexities and interdependence can lead to policy failures and poor governance, with consequences for the position of migrants in host societies and labour markets.

All actors must acknowledge that migration and integration are complicated processes that need attentive and multifaceted policy responses. This may appear to be a simple argument, but it seems to be increasingly disregarded in public policy debates, which are frequently focused on immediate ‘solutions’ and responses to what are often difficult policy quandaries. This means that much more has to be done to establish such shared understandings, which necessitates ongoing communication among the main stakeholders.

Structure and actors both matter at the same time. The political and socioeconomic institutional environment can significantly affect the success of specific initiatives targeted at closing gaps, limiting the transferability of certain experiences and lessons between countries and across time. This is not to say that learning cannot occur across borders, but rather that each intervention must be adapted to the appropriate institutional setting.

It is also necessary to re-establish integration on domestic and European agendas by prioritising pragmatic and creative responses and evaluating integration outcomes. The political disagreements and crises that arose during the previous years must be replaced by a reinvigorated debate on larger aims. The lack of consensus and divergent interpretations of common goals that lead and support policy improvements will continue to be an impediment to developing successful and long-term policies in Europe. Against this background, it is vital to strengthen the linkages between research and policymaking so that diverse actors understand and grasp the intricacies surrounding migration and integration, as well as particular measures and interventions, and the real and perceived (controversial) implications on identity, culture and security. This necessitates a collaborative strategy that may foster the formation of more effective collaborations between the research and policy communities, as well as suitable norms and incentives for all key parties to participate. We believe that this chapter and book will serve to create further ideas about how this might be done in practice, in a way that promotes migrants’ sustainable livelihoods and inclusive labour markets.



Important social standards are quality and sustainable employment, adequate income support throughout the life cycle and universal access to quality and affordable care, social, health, housing, education and life-long learning services (see Social Platform, 2016).


See, for example, https://www.mipex.eu/


See, for example, INSEAD (2021).


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