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The Effect of Refugee Integration on Migrant Labor in Jordan

  • Allison Spencer Hartnett (a1)


Before the Syrian civil war, Egyptians were the single largest migrant labor community in Jordan. Labor market pressures and changes to the Jordanian work permit system have resulted in the increasing vulnerability of Egyptian labor, who have been the primary labor force on Jordanian farms and construction sites since the late 1970s. Using new data from the 2015 Jordanian census, the 2010 and 2016 Jordan Labor Market Panel Survey, and field interviews conducted in Jordan from 2014 to 2018, I show that higher concentrations of Syrians at the subdistrict level are associated with higher rates of informal labor market participation for Egyptians. Furthermore, higher proportions of Syrians do not correlate with negative impacts on the formality or household wealth of Jordanian citizens, suggesting that Syrian labor does not directly compete with the Jordanian labor force. Given the importance of supporting host communities during refugee crises, this analysis sheds light on how mass forced migration affects other vulnerable segments of the migrant labor force in the Global South.

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1 FitzGerald, David Scott and Arar, Rawan, “The Sociology of Refugee Migration,” Annual Review of Sociology 44 (April 2018): 387406,

2 Chimni, B.S., “The Global Refugee Problem in the 21st Century and the Emerging Security Paradigm: A Disturbing Trend,” in Legal Visions of the 21st Century: Essays in Honour of Judge Christopher Weeramantry, eds. Antony Anghie and Garry Sturgess (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1998), 283–99.

3 Friedberg, Rachel M. and Hunt, Jennifer, “The Impact of Immigrants on Host Country Wages, Employment and Growth,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 9, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 2344,

4 Uri Dadush, The Effect of Low-Skilled Labor Migration on the Host Economy (working paper, KNOMAD, Washington, D.C., April 2014),

5 d'Artis Kancs and Patrizio Lecca, “Long-Term Social, Economic and Fiscal Effects of Immigration Into the EU: The Role of the Integration Policy,” (working paper, Joint Research Centre Working Papers in Economics and Finance 2017/4),

6 Gianluca Orefice, “On the Effects of Immigration on Host Countries,” (PhD diss., University of Milan, 2010).

7 Spielvogel, Gilles, “The contribution of recent refugee flows to the labour force,” in International Migration Outlook 2018 (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2018), 125–62,

8 Dilip Ratha, Sanket Mohapatra, and Elina Scheja, “Impact of Migration on Economic and Social Development: A review of evidence and emerging issues,” (working paper, the Civil Society Days at The Global Forum on Migration and Development 2010, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, November 2010),

9 Markus Gehrsitz and Martin Ungerer, “Jobs, Crime, and Votes: A Short-Run Evaluation of the Refugee Crisis in Germany,” (Discussion Paper Series No. 10494, IZA Institute for Labor Economics, Bonn, Germany, January 2017),

10 Spievogel, “The contribution of recent refugee flows.”

11 For a thorough literature review, see: FitzGerald and Arar, “The Sociology of Refugee Migration.”

12 Chimni, “The Global Refugee Problem.”

13 Rawan Arar, Lisel Hintz, and Kelsey P. Norman, “The real refugee crisis is in the Middle East, not Europe,” The Washington Post, May 14, 2016,

14 “General Population and Housing Census 2015: Main Results,” Department of Statistics, c,

15 This figure is likely inflated, and the true number of Syrians living in Jordan falls somewhere between that number as an upper limit and 666,294 (the number of Syrians officially registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as UNHCR) as a lower limit. See, “Jordan External Statistical Report on UNHCR Registered Syrians,” UNHCR, May 31, 2018, The census still represents our most complete understanding of the distribution of Syrians throughout Jordan.

16 Of the 666,294 Syrians registered with UNHCR in Jordan, only 126,131 live in camps. The breakdown by camp is 78,545 in Zaatari, 40,738 in Azraq, and 6,848 in Mrajeeb al Fhood (the Emirati camp). See, UNHCR, “Jordan External Statistical Report;” Juliette Stevenson, “UNHCR Jordan Fact Sheet - June 2018,” UNHCR,

17 Stevenson, “UNHCR Jordan Fact Sheet.”

18 Allison Spencer Hartnett, “Can Jordan's New Prime Minister Reform the Government?” The Washington Post, June 13, 2018,

19 Katharina Lenner and Lewis Turner, “Making Refugees Work? The Politics of Integrating Syrian Refugees into the Labor Market in Jordan,” Middle East Critique, online (April 2018), 1–31,

20 Jordan Compact was decided in London in February 2016. In the agreement, the GOJ committed to giving as many as 200,000 Syrians work permits over a period of several years (Lenner and Turner, “Making Refugees Work?”).

21 Al-Petra News Agency, “Al-Mulqi: Al-Urdun wasala ilaa aqsaa qadratuhu ’alaa tahmal ’ib al-laaj'iin al-suriyyiin” (Al-Mulqi: Jordan has reached the limits of its capabilities to carry the Syrian refugee burden), Al-Ra'i, April 5, 2017,

22 Ala’ Alrababa'h, and Scott Williamson, “Jordan shut out out 60,000 Syrian refugees — and then saw a backlash. This is why,” The Washington Post Monkey Cage Blog. July 20, 2018,

23 When asked about refugees in the host communities, several Jordanian interlocutors gave the same response: “Not poor them, poor us.” Interviews with retired civil servants in Umm Qais (October 28, 2016) and Irbid (August 1, 2018); interviews with farmers in Ghor as-Safi (December 13, 2016); and informal conversations in Amman (July 2017 and July 2018).

24 See, e.g., Svein Erik Stave and Solveig Hillesund, “Impact of Syrian refugees on the Jordanian labour market,” (working paper, International Labor Organization, Regional Office for the Arab States, Beirut, 2015),; Lorenza Errighi and Jörn Griesse, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Labour Market Implications in Jordan and Lebanon,” (European Economy Discussion Papers, Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs (European Commission), Luxembourg),; Shaddin Alhajahmad and Dorsey Lockhart, “Syrian refugee labour integration policy in Jordan,” West Asia-North Africa Institute, August 2017,

25 “Syrian Refugee Unit Work Permit Progress Report,” Jordan Ministry of Labour, February 14, 2018,

26 Brand, Laurie, Jordan's Inter-Arab Relations: The Political Economy of Alliance-Making (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

27 Hanieh, Adam, Lineages of Revolt: Issues of Contemporary Capitalism in the Middle East (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013).

28 Izz al-Din al-Natour, “Safih w blastik w kartun: ’aswaiyyat yaskunuha ’umaal masriyiin fii al-Urdun” (Egyptian workers living in slums in Jordan), Raseef 22, February 10, 2018, .

29 Izz al-Din Al-Natour, “Di mish ’ayeeshat bani Adam: Aina yaskun al-’umaal al-masriyiin fii al-Urdun?” (This isn't a life fit for humans: Where do Egyptian laborers live in Jordan?), 7iber, March 27, 2016,

30 Interview, Egyptian landowner and farm manager, North Shuneh (October 28, 2018). This was the case with several Egyptians interviewed, although it remains the exception rather than the rule. Despite landownership in the Jordan Valley being limited to Jordanians only, some Egyptians have found Jordanians willing to register land in their names; thus, while a Jordanian nominally owns the land, the Egyptian farmer pays for the property, controls the farm, and markets the produce.

31 Interview with a farmer in Karak (September 3, 2014), and interview with a farmer in Ghor As-Safi (January 6, 2018).

32 Susan Razzaz, “A Challenging Market Becomes More Challenging: Jordanian Workers, Migrant Workers and Refugees in the Jordanian Labour Market,” International Labour Organization, Regional Office for Arab States,

33 OAMDI, 2016. Labor Market Panel Surveys (LMPS), Version 2.0 of Licensed Data Files; JLMPS 2010. Egypt: Economic Research Forum (ERF).

34 Caroline Krafft and Ragui Assaad, “Introducing the Jordan Labor Market Panel Survey 2016,” (ERF Working Paper Series No. 1186, Economic Research Forum, Dokki, Egypt, April 2018)

35 OAMDI, 2018. Labor Market Panel Surveys (LMPS), Version 1.1 of Licensed Data Files; JLMPS 2016. Egypt: Economic Research Forum (ERF).

36 Statistics concerning refugee populations in Jordan have a fraught history. See Lenner and Turner, “Making Refugees Work?” for a full overview of previous concerns about the accuracy of Iraqi refugee statistics in Jordan. Nonetheless, the 2015 census results remain the best estimate of subnational dispersion of Syrians.

37 Razzaz, “A Challenging Market.”

38 Interview with a Jordanian farmer, Umm Qais (October 28, 2018).

39 See, for example, Amina Ismail, “Anxious Egyptians fear for jobs in Qatar after diplomatic rift,” Reuters, June 5, 2017,

40 A report from online daily Egypt Today tinged with anti-Qatar rhetoric says that Egypt has been facilitating the return of deported Egyptian workers with cooperation from Kuwait and Jordan: “988 Egyptian workers return from Qatar via Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon airports,” Egypt Today staff, Egypt Today, July 31, 2018,

41 Wahba, Jackline, “Through the Keyhole: International Migration in Egypt,” in The Egyptian Labor Market in an Era of Revolution, eds. Ragui Assaad and Caroline Krafft (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).


The Effect of Refugee Integration on Migrant Labor in Jordan

  • Allison Spencer Hartnett (a1)


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