Refugee Work Rights

What are work rights?: The parable is familiar: A poor woman says to two fishermen, “I’m hungry. Can you help?” The first gives her a fish. The second says, “I’ll teach you to fish.”

Yet, if our poor woman is a refugee who fled her home in order to keep her family safe from war or persecution…  she says, “I know how to fish. I’m just not allowed to.”

Being able to fish, having the pertinent work permit, is only the tip of the iceberg when addressing refugee work rights. In addition to that, safety while fishing and fair share of the revenue from the fish market are two more conditions that fall under the umbrella of work rights.

Refugee work rights are the laws and policies that protect refugees in entering and participating in the labor economy. Access to work complemented by labor rights protections decide whether refugees can thrive in the host country.  Work rights allow refugees to:

  • Secure lawful work without discrimination on the basis of their refugee status;
  • Access labor protections that safeguard them from exploitation or wage theft;
  • Earn a fair wage
  • Work in a safe environment

“Work is a start. It is a start to changing one’s life…Work gives a person the opportunity to educate their children, to feed them and to have a home.”

– Alberto, Colombian Refugee

Why work rights matter: Denying refugees the right to work forces them to sacrifice economic independence and rely on handouts for survival. As a result, refugees endure isolation, loss of confidence and erosion of skills. Without a job or income, refugees are forced to subsist as the underclass and stay dependent on social welfare, even though most are capable and eager to support themselves.

In contrast, self-sufficient refugees who have the opportunity to work lawfully provide economic and social contributions to their host communities and countries. They foster the potential to rejuvenate communities, expand markets, import new skills and create new jobs to provide opportunities for others.