Migrant Women in the EU Labor Force: Challenges and Suggestions.

Article by Yagmur T.

(8 mins read).

Despite recent improvements, the potential of migrant women mostly remains unused. Even though more than half of all migrants in EU countries are women they are underrepresented among new migrants and have difficulties in integrating into the EU labor market. This is why as an Association, we find it necessary and useful to talk about the challenges, difficulties of migrant women in integrating into the EU labor force and discuss how it can be improved.

It is well known that Europe is having high levels of labor demand in a variety of industries. Many EU Member States are experiencing severe talent shortages, according to research carried out for the European Commission, particularly in the areas of trained IT workers, healthcare professionals, engineers, and education and social service personnel. These shortages can affect not only the EU’s production and growth, but also national and regional goals in the areas of health, education, and social services. As well as skilled labor, unskilled labor is also in high demand; the European Commission estimates about three million jobs are unfilled across Europe. Moreover, the Roadmap for Equality between Women and Men shows the multiple discrimination faced by migrant women even though these people must be able to work in the labor forces of their receiving countries. We see the solution in integrating a gender dimension into appropriate migration policies, and a migration dimension into gender policies to protect migrant women from “double discrimination”.

When we focus on the statistics of migrants in the labor force in Europe, we see the differences in migrant women from third countries, migrant women born in other EU countries, and with native-born women and third-country migrant men, and also differences in the ‘old’ migrant-receiving countries (Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom) and the ‘new’ migrant-receiving countries (Greece, Spain, and Portugal). For instance, a number of  researches have shown that third-country migrant women’s labor force participation rates are significantly lower than those of native-born women in old migrant-receiving countries, whereas third-country migrant women’s labor force participation rates are higher than those of native-born women in new migrant-receiving countries. Besides, migrant women in the ‘new’ migrant-receiving nations are on average younger than native-born women, which helps to explain why they are more likely to be working. Also, it is important to note that having a child under the age of five years reduces migrant women’s labor force participation far more than it does for native-born women.

Migrant Women’s Double Disadvantage in the Labour Market 

Unemployment, involuntary part-time work, and temporary contract work are all important to analyze the “double disadvantage” of being a migrant and a woman in the labor market. For example, in the ‘old’ migrant-receiving countries, unemployment among third-country migrant women is substantially higher than that of native-born women than it is in the ‘new’ migrant-receiving countries of Southern Europe. Underemployment and temporary contract employment are also other problems that migrant women face.

The majority of migrant women workers are employed in service sector occupations (e.g. catering, domestic, and healthcare occupations), according to findings of global migration studies. Female migrant labor is in high demand in the services sector in both low-skilled professions like domestic work, including cleaning and child care, hotel cleaners, and waitresses, as well as skilled employment like nurses and other health care employees. Prostitution and the sex industry employ a large number of migrant women, some of whom are forced into it through human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Their concentration in the lowest skilled sectors limits their worker rights, labor market mobility, career advancement opportunities, and opportunities for human capital development. This situation demonstrates that even when migrant women are employed, the quality of their work is often poor, leaving them vulnerable on social and economic levels.

Although the number of migrant women working in high-skilled jobs increased in recent decades, they still represent a minority of the workforce. The reasons include the recognition of foreign degrees, as well as attitudes about women’s employment in the country of origin, language barriers, immigrants’ limited access to public sector jobs, and unfamiliarity with the labor market of the receiving country. There are also many migrant women who are underemployed which means they are employed in low-skilled sectors even though they have high education levels. Statistics show that high-educated migrant women born outside the EU are twice as likely to be employed in low-skilled jobs than EU-born and native-born women with the same degree of education. This limits their contribution to the EU economy while they are actually trained for it and capable of doing so. Also, lack of childcare support, guarantees of return to work after maternity leave, or immigration policies that prevent migrant men’s wives and other family members from working are listed as the other challenges that migrant women face in the EU.

What Can Be Done To Increase The Conditions of Migrant Women in the Labor Market in The EU?

A migrant woman’s propensity to work is influenced by a variety of factors, including the number of children she has, her level of education and skills, and her language competence, as well as external factors like legal barriers and discrimination. However, in the EU, creating cohesive, comprehensive policy initiatives to eliminate the challenges listed above, and help women migrants maximize their contributions to their host countries remains a struggle. Due to differences among the EU Member States in terms of conditions, we believe that a “mix policy” is necessary to tackle migrant women’s disadvantaged position in the EU labor market. In other words, the changes and improvements must be in both the EU and also at the national level. 

Moreover, it is important that host countries and European institutions shape the perceptions and understandings of migration and the contribution of migrants. Also, giving evidence to allay public concerns not only about security, crime, and social cohesion, but also potential mistrust and anger regarding the creation of policies that are considered to benefit migrant workers is necessary. In this way, the public can support prioritizing the integration of both migrant men and women into the EU labor market.Also, supporting immigrant parents in becoming fully and independently functional members of society is not only crucial for the migrants themselves, but it is also a precondition for their children’s success. Statistics show that having a working mother at the age of 14 (rather than a mother who stays at home), boosts the likelihood of native-born children of migrants nearly twice as much as their peers with native-born parents. This is why national governments must create further policies for helping migrant mothers, especially in terms of childcare.

Furthermore, the re-valuing of the work of migrant women in receiving countries is essential for the social and economic integration of migrant women into the EU labor market. Female participation is explicitly encouraged by the European agenda for greater gender equality. Given the agenda for jobs and prosperity, the skills and capacity that all women bring to European economies are becoming increasingly important. It is also important to note that until recently, migrant women’s increasing participation in caring and domestic work, which was traditionally the sphere of native-born women in most households, has permitted many women’s growing participation at work. In a sense, these migrant women are progressively providing the infrastructure that allows more native-born women to find paid work, particularly in medium and high-skilled occupations. The fact is that the unregulated nature of these jobs getting done by migrant women leaves them vulnerable, and objects for labor exploitation and human rights abuses. Domestic and care workers must be protected and security and benefits must be provided to guarantee that some people’s economic and social success is not based on the inequality and exploitation of others.

Migrant women face double discrimination in being integrated into the EU labor market and most of the challenges they face are systematic failures that can be improved or completely eliminated by comprehensive and effective policy changes and actions. These changes are highly necessary and compulsory for enabling migrant women to have a better life, raise their children in a better way as well as contribute to their community welfare.

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