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Beyond the work permit quotas: Corruption and other barriers to labour integration for Syrian refugees in Jordan

In 2016, the Jordanian government began issuing work permits for Syrian refugees through the Ministry of Labor and cooperating labour associations. Despite its successes on some fronts, reliance on intermediaries and other aspects of the system have compromised access to meaningful work for segments of the Syrian refugee population. While nepotism, in particular, plays a functional role by matching employers and employees, weakened networks within the refugee population tend to lead to unevenly distributed benefits. Recommendations include policy adjustments to expand the types of work for which permits may be provided, strengthening the role of employment centres, and limiting the scope of control current employers exert over permit holders.

4 April 2019
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Main points

  • Over time, there have been a flurry of policy changes that have sought to regularise Syrian refugee workers in Jordan through the issuance of work permits. These changes have lowered the regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles to Syrians’ access to the Jordanian labour market.
  • Nepotism plays a functional role for Syrian refugees and employers in Jordan. The need for efficiencies in various sectors and the pressures to meet global goals for permit issuance have created space for new forms of corrupt and perceived-to-be-corrupt practices in the IWPS.
  • Obtaining a work permit does not guarantee employment, and it only gives the possibility of work in limited professional sectors that may be restricted through gender-based and nationality quotas.
  • Syrians cite the exploitation of Syrian workers’ precarity as the most corrupt practice they regularly experience.
  • The Jordanian government has both historically and within the IWPS proven itself adept at adjusting policies to regularise otherwise corrupt practices.
  • The functions of current practices could be fulfilled through other, formalised means, such as an enhanced role for job-matching services and policy adjustments to limit the scope of control that can be exerted by current employers.

Cite this publication

Tobin, S.; Alahmed, M.; (2019) Beyond the work permit quotas: Corruption and other barriers to labour integration for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2019:4)

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About the authors

Sarah Tobin

Dr. Sarah Tobin is an anthropologist whose work explores transformations in religious and economic life, identity construction, and personal piety in Jordan, including amongst Syrian refugees. She is the author of the monograph Everyday Piety: Islam and Economy in Jordan. Her most recent book is the co-authored Politics of the Headscarf in the United States. Dr. Tobin is a Senior Researcher at CMI in Bergen, Norway.

Maisam Alahmed

Maisam Alahmed is a research consultant specialising in labour market analysis and the Syrian refugee crisis. Her previous research projects focused on the impact of Syrian workers on the Jordanian labour market and Palestinian refugees from Syria in Jordan. Maisam has a BA in Political Science and International Affairs from Northeastern University.


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