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Metadrasi - METAdrasi Kathimerini Opinion 071223

Lora Pappa Opinion Piece in “Kathimerini”: a viable solution for job vacancies

Metadrasi - METAdrasi Kathimerini Opinion 071223

At a time when companies are in need of thousands of workers, it is worth considering employing refugees and migrants already present in our country, rather than discussing the “import” of labor from countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Over the last three years, the landscape of labor supply in our country has been steadily deteriorating. For the first time ever, this year since its very beginning, tourist businesses in sheer desperation, began contacting NGOs, seeking employees to fill thousands of vacancies. Notably, just two years ago, candidates were required to speak Greek, and last year, a minimum knowledge of English was a prerequisite. This year, however, employers are hiring people who speak neither Greek nor English. So, instead of using the existing pool of refugees and asylum seekers who have legal residency permits, there is a surprising announcement of plans to import migrants, mainly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and most recently, Egypt.

It is evident that the number of asylum seekers and refugees residing in Greece does not suffice to cover the hundreds of thousands of job vacancies in all sectors. The immediate integration of legally residing asylum seekers and refugees, both within and outside camps, would certainly offer a temporary and partial solution. In fact, there is not a single Director of refugee accommodation facilities that has not felt the palpable pressure from local businesses desperately seeking to employ refugees. Unfortunately, one can only suggest a few to none.  Why should that be the case?

Most recognized refugees are anticipating their passports to be issued so that they can leave for another EU country. In Greece, this comes as a Sisyphean task, even for the simplest things, such as obtaining an Insurance Identification Number (AMA) or opening a bank account, necessary for legitimate employment. The entire process is frustrating. For asylum seekers, this situation is even worse; in addition to the above, they are compelled to wait six months from the submission of their asylum application before being allowed to work. Until then, they remain idle in the camp staring at the blue sky. This seemingly absurd clause that was first introduced in the Greek law in 2019 and is reworded in Article 57 of Law 4939/2022 must urgently be repealed. Surprisingly, even though Greece has showcased good practices in international fora during the past 30 years regarding the direct integration of these people into the labor market, this situation has partially been revoked. Now, more than ever, this emerges as a serious problem, particularly exacerbated by the challenges of finding suitable labor and aging population.

I have attempted to understand the rationale behind this provision, which seems designed to prevent those already living and working illegally in our country from applying for asylum in order to obtain legal residence and employment. What actually happens is that while they apply for asylum they continue to work illegally, despite the imposed six-month constraint. This paradoxical situation forces those who are already working illegally to continue to work under the same circumstances and those who could potentially work legitimately to be ultimately pushed into illegal work. Time seems to be standing still as everyone is waiting for something; a document to be issued, a prohibitive deadline to expire. The hope is that eventually, these people can stand on their own feet with dignity, feeling useful and productive, while employers can find the manpower they desperately need.

It is imperative, first and foremost, to lift the six-month constraint on accessing the labor market for asylum seekers, as well as to simplify and automate the procedure for issuing the Insurance Identification Number electronically. Additionally, banks should streamline certain opening procedures within the banking system, requesting specific legal residence documents for refugees and asylum seekers. Facilitating their access to the labor market can result in considerable savings and improved utilization of European funds, thus leading to the decongestion of camps, among other benefits. The unreasonable requirements and difficulties that currently hinder a remarkable workforce from accessing the labor market come only with harmful consequences not only for these individuals but also for the interests of our country.

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