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Fact File: Syrians’ Right to Work in Nearby Countries

This fact sheet is part of a package that includes the articles “Turkey Sends Mixed Signals to Syrian Job Seekers” and “In Lebanon and Jordan, Syrians Face Bleak Employment Future.”

Increasing access to legal employment for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey was a key focus of a donor meeting in London in February of 2016. A year later, many restrictions remain in place. Here is a brief summary of the situation in each country.


A January 2016 government ruling grants Syrians in Turkey permission to work in the province where they are registered residents. An estimated 26 percent (750,000) of the 2,854,968 Syrians registered in the country are working, according to one study. Although Turkish law officially requires Syrian workers to be paid at least the minimum wage and get government-mandated employee benefits, interviews with Syrian workers indicate that many of them are paid below the minimum wage and have few protections from abusive or fickle employers.


The Jordanian government agreed in February 2016 to provide work permits for up to 200,000 Syrians over a number of years, in exchange for foreign aid and the opening of European markets to Jordanian exports. It also offered Syrian refugees a temporary waiver of the usual fees for a permit. But only 37,000 permits have been issued to date through that program. While that represents a significant number of the likely Syrian immigrant population, it means a large number are still without official work. As in Turkey, work permits in Jordan are tied to employers, who apply on behalf of employees once residency, registration, and health requirements are met. Permits are available in very limited work sectors such as agriculture and construction. The majority of Syrians do not make even close to the minimum wage. A survey in Jordan by the United Nations International Labour Organization looked at workers in the construction and agriculture sectors and noted that although 90 percent of workers had heard about the grace period, none in the agriculture sector and only 85 percent in construction had work permits, even though almost all knew that getting caught might mean detention at the Azraq refugee camp.


The Lebanese government does not recognize Syrians as refugees, but rather considers them “displaced persons,” which strips them of many key rights, including the right to work. Syrians registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) must sign pledges stating that they will not work in Lebanon. Some Syrians have also reported being asked to sign documents promising to return to Syria when their current work permit expires or when requested by the government. Seventy percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now live below the poverty line ($3.84 per day)—an increase from 49 percent in 2014—while only half of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are economically active, mostly in the informal sector due to restrictions on their access to the legal job market. As in Jordan, permits are available only in very limited fields such as agriculture and construction, and it is difficult and expensive to renew the residency papers that Lebanon has required since 2014. Expired papers leave refugees vulnerable to arrest, and many Syrian refugees face racism in the form of chauvinistic rhetoric, discrimination, curfews, evacuation notices, and increasingly frequent racial attacks against their person and their livelihood.



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