This article aims to describe the context of Syrian refugees within the Turkish labor market through a brief overview of the reflections of the Syrian refugee crisis in Turkey followed by an iteration of the legal framework of Right to Work regulations as put forward by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.
Syrian refugees in Turkey
With the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, the first Syrian refugees entered Turkey. While many used Turkey as a bridge to Greece and the wider European Union, many have remained in Turkey, officially registered as Syrians under Temporary Protection instead of refugees. In 2011, Turkey’s Minister of the Interior through three core principles defined the Temporary Protection Regime:
1) Turkey’s borders shall remain open to persons seeking to cross the border to seek safety in Turkey;
2) No persons from Syria shall be sent back to Syria against their will; and
3) Basic humanitarian needs of the persons arriving from the conflict in Syria shall be met
Until October 2014, the temporary protection regime functioned through political and administrative judgment. After this date, however, the Temporary Protection Regulation was passed and the temporary protection regime was crystallized with the definition of who shall be granted temporary protection, the declaration of non-punishment of illegal entry and stay, and the underscoring of the principle of non-refoulement. The Turkish government’s policy in this period was one of the open doors and as such its strategy was described by a 2015 World Bank report through two features. Primarily, a non-camp approach was undertaken as only 260,000 out of 3.2 million, or roughly %8, of refugees, are currently in camps. The rest settled in urban areas where they fended for their own accommodation and work opportunities. Secondly, a government-financed approach was commenced with the Turkish government deciding to spend a large sum of money on Syrian refugees. As of April 2017, that number is more than $25 billion.
In 2016, as the number of Syrians using Turkey as a gateway to the EU increased, a readmission agreement aiming to curtail this influx by incentivizing the Turkish Coast Guard to intercept migrant boats was signed between the European Union and Turkey. This deal stipulates that for every migrant seized by Turkey, a Syrian refugee residing in Turkey would be granted asylum by the European Union. As a result of this deal, Turkey will receive 3+3 Billion Euros by the end of 2018. More than a year on from this deal, the migrant route from Turkey to Europe has become much more difficult to cross and as such many of the Syrian refugees have started to look at Turkey as a more permanent place of residence.
Right to Work Laws and Access to the Labor Market
While Turkey has historically received immigrants, non-Turkish origin immigrants have used it as a transit country rather than a permanent residence. With the aforementioned status of Syrians, however, the Government of Turkey has taken steps to better accommodate Syrians into the labor market. Nonetheless, most Syrians seek employment in the informal sector, as the hurdles one has to jump over to gain legal employment remain high. As a source of cheap illegal labor for Turkish employers, Syrians face unhealthy, unstable, and dangerous working conditions. Additionally, many Syrian children are forced to work for even lower wages. Regardless, Turkey has revised its right to work laws as a result of the influx.
In January of 2016, the Regulation on the Work Permit of Foreigners Under Temporary Protection was implemented. This regulation defines the procedures and principles regarding the work permits issued to persons under temporary protection, or Syrian refugees in this context. In the regulation, important stipulations include a work permit exemption for seasonal jobs in livestock, animal husbandry and agriculture, a maximum validity of one year and a minimum six-month waiting period for “job seekers” under temporary protection.
According to Law No. 4817, work permits are issued as either dependent or independent work permits with the former being issued to a specific workplace or employer while the latter allows for a person to work legally without dependence to a certain employer. Other regulations limit the type of jobs one can find employment in. Responsibilities of employers in this process include compliance with the minimum wage regardless of nationality, applying for the work permit and the fulfillment of the following requirements:
1) The employer must employ at least 5 Turkish nationals in the workplace.
2) The employer should have reached a certain threshold in paid capital or in gross sales or in previous year export volume.
3) Fees and salaries should be compatible with the required qualifications. To this end, there are “multipliers” determined by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. For instance, a salary to be paid to an engineer or an architect cannot be lower than 4 times of the minimum wage.
As most permits that are issued are dependent, Syrian refugees who find legal work through this avenue have to apply for a new permit in the event of their employment in a new workplace.
Conclusions and Recommendations
With no clear end in sight to the Syrian Civil War and the Syrian refugee population in Turkey reaching over 3 million, it can be safely presumed that a great percentage of “Syrians under temporary protection” will have a more than temporary period of residence in Turkey. Although the Government of Turkey has spent over $25 Billion on Syrians thus far, only a small portion of refugees lives in camps, as this number funds many other expenses pertaining to the management of refugees. With this in mind, further steps to better integrate Syrians into the urban areas they reside in have to be taken. As Syrian workers get pushed into the informal sector and employers use them as a source of cheap labor, local workers are displaced leading to further rifts between these two groups. In order to combat these problems, the right to work laws have to be revised to make it easier for persons under temporary protection to attain work permits. This can include a shorter waiting period, permits lasting longer than one year and the freedom of movement from a workplace to workplace for permit-holders with the issuance of more independent permits instead of dependent ones. Additionally, law enforcement agencies have to tighten their fight against illegal cheap labor as this leads to unsafe working environments for Syrian workers and children.