Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Integration of Refugees on the Danish Labor Market 1

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Integration of Refugees on the Danish Labor Market 1

Article excerpt


Since the unprecedented inflow of refugees in Europe from 2014, the 'refugee crisis' has been high on the international and national political agendas. In the EU, there are ongoing debates on border control, asylum policies, and responsibility sharing between the Member States and discussions on how to improve labor market integration within the member states.

The Nordic countries have received a higher proportion of asylum seekers than the rest of the EU. From 2009 to 2015, the number of asylum seekers per capita was 70 per 10,000 residents in EU compared with about 100 in Finland and Denmark, 200 in Norway, and 450 in Sweden (Dustmann et al 2016: Table 6). Although the number of asylum seekers have declined since 2016, the situation in the migration countries is far from stable and new waves of migrants may occur in the near future. At the same time, an increasing number of refugee family members will get access to the Nordic countries.

An important precondition of the Nordic welfare model is high employment and participation rates. However, all the Nordic countries have struggled in finding effective measures to integrate nonwestern migrants and the integration measures implemented so far have had modest effects (Djuve & Grødem 2014; Dølvik et al 2015). Moreover, the enlargement of the EU and increasing labor migration has intensified competition for the lowest paid jobs and made it harder for groups with low skills and limited work experience to integrate on the labor market, especially the group of humanitarian migrants (Dølvik et al 2015; Nordic Council of Ministers 2017). The Nordic countries tend to have greater negative employment gaps between natives and migrants than other OECD countries. This is partly due to the high employment rates of the native populations in the Nordic countries, but also due to real challenges of labor market integration of migrants from nonwestern countries, including refugees (Nordic Council of Ministers 2017).

In this article, we focus on newly arrived refugees and family reunified migrants and not the wider group of migrants (e.g., economic migrants, migrant workers, or foreign students). A refugee is a person who has been granted asylum and thereby a legal right to stay in the new host country. Family reunified migrants are foreigners allowed to reunify with their family members living in the new host country. This group of humanitarian migrants have traditionally been the most difficult group of migrants to integrate on the labor market (Dustmann et al 2016), and, therefore, provides a major challenge and case for reforms of the Nordic labor market integration policies.

In this article, we examine two related research questions: 1) what are the barriers for labor market integration of refugees? 2) To what extent does the new framework for labor market integration of refugees in Denmark address these barriers and will it succeed?

In the following, we present our conceptual framework and review the current literature in order to identify barriers for labor market integration of refugees on the supply-side, the demand-side, and within the matching process of the labor market. Subsequently, we examine current changes and implementation of the new labor market integration framework in Denmark and assess the preliminary results of the new approach.

Conceptual framework and literature review

The labor market can be defined as the relationships between labor supply, labor demand, and the institutions facilitating matches between supply and demand. Barriers to labor market integration are, therefore, located on the supply-side, the demand-side, or in the matching-process (cf. Bredgaard 2017).1 At the individual level, barriers may even be multiple and mutually reinforcing.

The framework identifies three different conceptual approaches to understanding labor market integration of 'vulnerable' or 'disadvantaged' groups, in this case refugees. …

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