In the four years since they fled from Hama to Jordan, 22-year-old Syrian refugee Khaled has been the sole wage earner for his family of eight. With no valid work permit for his farm-laboring job, Khaled has lived with the ever-present fear that he would be caught and his family’s financial lifeline severed.
When he received an SMS last week from UNHCR informing him of new measures introduced by the Jordanian government to make it easier for Syrian refugees to get work permits, he wasted no time. Together with his Jordanian employer, Khaled went to the nearest government employment office to apply, and within days was issued with a permit valid for one year.
“It feels great,” said Khaled, proudly holding the blue credit card-style permit with its official government crest. “Now I can go anywhere and work in comfort without the fear of being stopped. I feel like my efforts are worth something.”
Under the new measures, employers in the informal sector have a three-month grace period to obtain work permits for Syrian refugees and regularize their employment. During this time, the usual fees for obtaining the permit – which range from US$170 to US$1,270 depending on the sector – have been waived.
The move will potentially put Syrian refugees on the same footing as migrant workers in sectors such as agriculture, construction, service industries and food and beverages. This would provide a much-needed economic boost to the roughly 630,000 registered Syrian refugees in the Kingdom, the vast majority of whom currently live below the poverty line and rely on humanitarian aid for survival.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, estimates that the measures could potentially see up to 78,000 Syrians able to work legally in the short term and many more thousands in years to come. The change will also benefit Jordanian employers of Syrians, allowing them to legalize their employees and avoid steep fines of between US$280 and US$2,100.
Since the beginning of March, Jordanian authorities have also allowed Syrian refugees to use Jordanian Ministry of Interior identity cards and UNHCR-issued asylum-seeker cards to obtain work permits. Previously, the only way to do so was using a passport and proof of legal entry into the country.
Jordanian Abu Mustafa runs the large farm in the lush Jordan Valley where Khaled works and lives in several tents with his parents and siblings. He said he was happy to help Khaled get his work permit and pay the small fee for his medical exam.
“Khaled is a good worker, but he and his family are very poor. This was a good way for me to help out a man who works for me,” Abu Mustafa said. “It’s also good for me. Now all of my workers are legal, and nobody can say anything or accuse me of breaking the rules.”
Khaled, who earns one Jordanian Dinar – equivalent to US$1.40 – per hour for planting, harvesting and other physically demanding work, says he is fortunate to have a supportive employer who agreed to sponsor him in order to get his permit.
“Not all landowners or employers are willing to sponsor Syrian workers, so that will be the main challenge for refugees who want to become legal. I’m one of the lucky ones, because now I have peace of mind for me and my family.”
For more details on recent measures improving access to Jordan’s labor market for refugees, please click here.
By Charlie Dunmore in the Jordan Valley