How to find a job in Europe

Statistics and challenges in finding employment

28 february 2018


Employed refugees in Europe

He was angry. “You don’t understand it. Even if I have the best diploma’s, even if I am the most skilled worker, no one here will ever hire a Syrian refugee. People think I am a terrorist. People think I used to live in a hut and owned a camel for transportation.”

I disagreed. Yes, it is difficult for refugees to find a job at their level. Yes, discrimination and ignorance are serious issues. But finding a job is not impossible. Below we’ve gathered some cold hard facts: statistics of employment in refugees in Europe. And we give you tips on how you can improve your chances of finding a job.

Employment in Europe

As you can see in this image, 71% of the native population in Europe is employed. Of all asylum seekers in Europe, 58% are employed. This means the statistics are hopeful. It is harder for refugees to find a job, but it is not impossible.

The image above comes from the paper Labour market performance of refugees in the EU, from the European Commission.

The paper shows that it is easier to get a job if:Your parents are educated

  • Your language is advanced
  • You live in the country for more than six years
  • One of your parents is born in the EU.

This means that it is important to work on your language skills. And it also means that some things take time.

“You need to understand that things take time. You don’t reach your goals overnight. As a refugee, you go through different phases. First you live in a temporary place. If you’re lucky you’ll soon get a house were you can stay permanently. Then you’ll have to focus on learning the language, exploring the education system, getting to know the labour market.

These phases take time. You need to stay motivated and keep telling yourself that you will get through this.”

Zina Bankasli, Student International Business and Management (Born 1996, fled from Syria to The Netherlands in 2014)

Employment for refugees in the Netherlands

In 2015 the WRR published an extensive study on unemployment amongst refugees in the Netherlands. They studied a group of 33.000 refugees, who fled to the Netherlands from 1995 until 1999.  The rapport is called No time to lose: from reception to integration of asylum migrants. These are their most important findings:

  • Two years after their arrival, 25% of refugees have a paying job for at least eight hours
  • Five years after their arrival, over 50% of refugees have a paying job for at least eight hours
  • In comparison: 70% of native Dutch people have a paying job for at least eight hours

A breakdown per country of origin:

  • 60% of Iranians are employed
  • 42% of Afghans are employed
  • 39% of Iraqis are employed
  • 26% of Somalis are employed.

Refugees from Iran are generally speaking highly educated and Somalis were not. A lot of Somalis who came to the Netherlands during that time, were single mothers. Single mothers have more difficulties finding a job than a young person with a masters degree. Overall, finding a job in The Netherlands is doable.

German employers about hiring refugees

In 2017 the OECD published the study Finding their way: labour market integration of refugees in Germany.

Extensive research of the current labour market and interviews with employers in Germany, led to the following key findings:

  • The majority of hires of asylum seekers and refugees for regular jobs and for internships were for low-skilled positions.
  • Good or very good knowledge of the German language is necessary. Even for low-skilled jobs, half of all employers require at least good knowledge.
  • More than 80% of employees are broadly or fully satisfied with the work of refugees.
  • Challenges mentioned by employers: language competences and different work habits.

“Start with the basics. Be on time. If you really want to work, be on time for all your appointments. As a refugee, you need to work ten times harder than natives to achieve the same things. Prepare yourself. Be persistent, eager and curious.”

Nasir Ali, Managing Director (Born 1983, fled from Somaliland to The Netherlands in 1993)


“The first five years were hard. You need that time to get used to the new country, culture and labour market. I managed to find investors and started my own company. I took risks. It is important to be brave, to dare.”

Marcel, Restaurant owner (Born 1970, fled from Lebanon to The Netherlands in 1989)

The difficult job market in Sweden

According to statistics in this article in the Economist almost 65% of immigrants are employed in Sweden. Almost 80% of native Swedes are employed.  Newcomers will have problems finding low skilled jobs, because there hardly are any. Not even 5% of jobs in Sweden are low skilled. (Germany 9%, Spain 16%)

“But foreign-born workers are three times as likely to be unemployed, and the ratio is rising. For those from outside the EU it is higher still (22.5% are unemployed). Hidden discrimination, housing problems and a Swedish reliance on informal networks help explain the gap. But many refugees simply lack the skills for Sweden’s job market.”

Sweden has a two year programme to prepare refugees for the job market. Unfortunately this programme takes too long for highly educated refugees and is too short for people who struggle with learning the language.

The best option for refugees in Sweden is to get educated and focus on learning the language. You can’t go to university or get a high skilled job if you don’t speak the language.

“It took me about three years to learn Swedish. It is very different from Arabic. Right now I am preparing to go to the university, to do a master in Swedish. I have to write scientific essays in Swedish, which is hard but is helping me improve my level.

Try to think in the new language and find words every day you don’t know yet. You’ll end up with a long list of useful words you’ll never forget.”

Ruba haj Hussein, Student (Born 1995, fled from Syria to Sweden in 2013)

Unemployment in Italy and Greece

Sweden, Germany and The Netherlands have strong economies. Unemployment under natives is low. Even though refugees face serious obstacles, finding work there is possible. Refugees in countries like Italy and Greece face even more challenges. According to Eurostat in 2017 11,7% of Italians are unemployed and 23,6% of Greeks. (Germany 3,8%, Netherlands 4,9%, Sweden 6,7%)

In 2016 the European Commission published a paper called Labour market integration of asylum seekers and refugees – Italy.

  • According to this paper, these are the biggest obstacles for refugees in Italy:
  • Difficulties getting a residence permit. Without this permit, you are not allowed to work.
  • Language training lacks national coordination. There are different funding providers and it is hard for refugees to find out what their rights are.
  • Integration bodies don’t work together, so not every refugee gets the same training and opportunities.

The same paper is available for Greece: Labour market integration of asylum seekers and refugees – Greece.

The biggest obstacles for refugees in Greece:

  • Fulfilling tax obligations. Refugees have to pay taxes, but received no help in exploring the complex tax system. By not fulfilling tax obligations, refugees don’t get access to benefits.
  • Asylum Seeker Card not accepted as proof of legal residence and other administrative issues.
  • Unable to renew work permits.


Refugees face serious obstacles entering the European labour market. However, it is possible to improve your chances by taking the following steps:

  • Focus on the language. The better you speak the language, the bigger the chance you’ll get a job.
  • Get information about your rights. Are there special programs in your country that will help you find a job? Call your municipality to find out.
  • Network with natives. Tell people you are looking for a job. Maybe someone can help you.
  • Get educated: European diploma’s are valuable.
  • Talk to refugees who have already found a job.
  • Start as a volunteer.
  • Be patient and stay focussed on your goals.

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