IOM Hungary’s First Roundtable on Employment of Migrants and Refugees in Hungary

Panel discussion: IOM Hungary’s First Roundtable on Employment of Migrants and Refugees in Hungary

Dániel Bagaméri, Head of IOM Hungary Office

Csilla Janka, Labor Migration Specialist at IOM Hungary, "Ukrainian Refugees in the European Labor Market"

Panel Discussion with Recruiters: Overview on Labor Migration Trends

Panel Discussion on Daily Challenges of Migrant Workers

Migrant workers face a number of potential sources of labor exploitation while searching for employment or during their employment. In order to begin tackling the problem, IOM Hungary convened the first roundtable discussion on ’Employment of Migrants and Refugees in Hungary’ on 26 June 2023. The roundtable was sponsored by the Republic of Korea. The event brought together many of the main actors of the Hungarian labor market, such as government institutions, embassy representatives, recruiting agencies and NGOs to discuss current trends and policies, with a special focus on Ukraine; and to enhance cooperation among stakeholders. According to the presentations and panel discussions some of the obstacles migrant workers face in Hungary include:
     •    Due to language barriers or lack of support and knowledge of the local labor laws, labor migrants are more likely to become victims of labor exploitation than local laborers; even if knowledge of English language is required from the worker, the Hungarian employer often lacks the necessary language skills, which creates problems with communication and administration;
     •    Labor migrants are over-represented in dangerous industrial jobs such as factories and construction, and therefore tend to be more vulnerable to safety and health issues than local workers;
     •    Labor exploitation may take many physical and/or psychological forms, for example: deception, restriction of movement, isolation, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, retention of identity documents, ungrounded deductions from salaries, withholding of wages, debt bondage, abusive working conditions or excessive working hours; 
     •    Labor migrants are held to higher standards
     •    Workers are sometimes seen as commodities;
     •    Many countries have small embassy or consulate representation in Hungary and therefore have difficulty providing the proper safeguards when processing labor paperwork for their nationals;
     •    Migrant workers may incorrectly believe that their Temporary Protection Status is linked to their employment or employer and therefore are less likely to report exploitive practices;
     •    Employers are not well acquainted with refugee Temporary Protection Cards and therefore fear that employing such card holders is against the law; 
     •    The recognition process of professional qualifications is time-consuming, and foreign diplomas may not be recognized as equivalent;
     •    The time required by the hiring process of foreign workers (on average 1-2 months for licensed agencies and 3 months for other agencies for the approval of residence permit application makes it difficult for many companies to plan;
     •    Children of migrant workers are excluded from the national social security system, thus health care is not provided for them; and
     •    If there is no prior cultural training, there might be conflicts with the local community. 

The Ukrainian Context
The crisis in Europe reinforced the importance of migrant workers. A certain risk of over-qualification of Ukrainian refugees in the labor market is very high. The early employment uptake has been concentrated in low-skilled jobs, therefore skills mismatches are widespread. On the other hand, Ukrainian refugees are integrating into the labor market of their host countries at a much faster pace than all other refugee groups. Having the right to work upon arrival with the help of the Temporary Protection Status facilitates their immediate access to the labor market. Ukrainian refugees have strong experience in high-priority sectors such as tech, health care, social services and education. The estimated impact of Ukrainian refugees on the Hungarian labor force shows about a 1% and 1,5% increase. Accompanying support measures such as affordable childcare - because of the high number of women and children arriving to the region - and recognition of professional qualifications is particularly important for integration of Ukrainian refugees. In fact, integration is not a policy concern in most European countries. It was also highlighted that there are significant information gaps on rights and standards of employment. 

NGO representatives, researchers, migrant representatives and the IOM’s Head of Information Provision Unit all agreed that the one crucial, determining issue influencing the successful integration of migrant workers in Hungary is the availability (or lack of) of information. Information provision through certified communication channels on labor migration rights and obligations, and useful country-specific or cultural details are key prior to travelling to the transit or destination country, and upon arrival as well. Legal assistance, re-evaluation of regulations, support for social integration and social dialogue are key to ensure effective labor migration management. The language barrier is a significant barrier to the successful social integration of workers and their family members. a new state Guest Worker Scheme is currently making its way through legislative channels that would try to address some of the issues outlined above, such as: guaranteeing a 3-month visa grace period to change employers, multiple entry/exit, and the situation of family members.

Recommendations to improve recruitment of migrant workers in Hungary:

  1. reduce the level of politicization of the issue; 
  2. implement consistent and easy-to-follow regulations; 
  3. increase the capacity of the responsible Hungarian authorities, consulates (issuance of visa, appointments) and labor inspectorates; 
  4. take action against illegal recruitment and exploitative practices; 
  5. improve post arrival assistance; 
  6. embassies could establish contact with companies where their citizens are typically present in large numbers;
  7. information sharing on tax regulations and benefits migrant workers are entitled to; 
  8. psychological support for workers; 
  9. operational standards and adequate staff are needed in terms of accommodation provided for migrant workers;
  10. tackle deceitful job advertisements, and take action against the practices of illegal recruitment agencies;
  11. multi-stakeholder discussion, development of a strategy for the integration of children of migrant workers, a cultural integration strategy, and free language courses for workers and their family members;
  12. companies should consider that higher than minimum wage salary and better living condition decrease fluctuation of workers; and
  13. companies should take responsibility in ensuring that its management, staff and the local community is duly prepared to the reception of migrant workers and facilitate their social integration. 

Key IOM Hungary Labor Migration Activities:
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) strives to protect migrant workers and to optimize the benefits of labor migration for both the country of origin and destination, as well as for the migrants themselves. Through its global network of more than 400 offices, IOM is able to bring together governments, civil society and the private sector to establish labor migration programs and mechanisms that balance their various interests, and address migrants’ needs. The IOM approach to international labor migration is to foster the synergies between labor migration and development, and to promote legal avenues of labor migration as an alternative to irregular migration. Moreover, IOM aims to facilitate the development of policies and programs that are in the interest of migrants and society, providing effective protection and assistance to labor migrants and their families. In its labor migration programing, IOM Hungary builds capacity in labor migration management by:

  • offering policy and technical advice to national governments;
  • supporting the development of policies, legislation and administrative structures that promote efficient, effective and transparent labor migration flows;
  • assisting  governments to promote safe labor migration practices for their nationals;
  • providing information to migrant workers about their rights and entitlements under the law; and to employers, service providers, schools and health professionals about their responsibilities towards their foreign staff;
  • building capacities in the system by establishing rapport with schools, doctors, service providers and employers to ease social inclusion, better guarantee the rights of migrant works and prevent labor exploitation;
  • offering a free interpretation service and legal advice to assist labor migrants to review contracts and interact with employers, doctors, recruitment agencies and Government offices; and
  • promoting the integration of labor migrants in their new workplace and society.

In 2019, 72,6% of the immigrants who obtained residence permit longer than 12 months came for the purpose of work, making labor the most popular entitlement of residence. Labor migration of Hungarian citizens has increased, and as a result, Hungary is gradually becoming a country in need of foreign workers in certain economic sectors. According to Manpower Group, more than 50% of Hungarian firms have significant difficulties filling jobs, especially in the field of information technology and health care. The country also has a serious demand for manual labor workers. The Hungarian Migration Strategy, adopted in October 2013, also emphasizes that although it is important to ensure the protection of the national labor market, receiving additional migrant labor is a necessity. Attracting knowledge-based migration has been set as a goal, but there is no developing tendency of highly qualified third-country nationals applying for the EU Blue Card as a possible way to gain residence permit in an EU country. 

In 2016 and 2017, the Hungarian Government repeatedly stated the country’s need for skilled labor. Indeed, several reports confirm that Hungary has been affected by labor shortages. According to Friedrich Ebert Stigung Foundation, this urgency led the Hungarian Government to adopt measures in order to recruit foreign labor by targeting Ukraine, Serbia, and China mainly. Furthermore, employment residence permits are allowed to employers that are engaged in a strategic partnership agreement with the Hungarian Government, such as in the case of Ukrainian and Serbian citizens who would be employed in hard-to-fill vacancies, or employers implementing projects of strategic importance to the national economy.1  

Additional information and resources:
Displacement Tracking Matrix Quarterly Overview on Access to Labor Markets and Employment in Europe
Displacement Tracking Matrix Reports for Hungary


SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth