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Expanding Labor Market Access for Refugees and Forced Migrants

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In general, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) severely restrict refugees and forced migrants’ labor market access (LMA). But now, in countries such as Colombia, Ethiopia, Jordan, and Turkey, refugees and forced migrants are slowly gaining the formal right and opportunity to facilitate their own economic inclusion. Governments are granting these rights in part because they recognize the benefits of doing so, which include unlocking refugees and forced migrants’ economic contributions and attracting new investments in inclusive growth. They also recognize the limits of short-term humanitarian aid in the face of growing need and donor fatigue. The World Bank, UNHCR, ILO, Tent Partnership for Refugees, Refugee Self-Reliance Initiative, and many others have supported these efforts and continue to play a crucial role in sustaining forward momentum.

Despite advances, the vast majority of refugees and forced migrants in LMICs are still not formally allowed to work. As we showed recently, this restriction creates a wide range of costs and forgone benefits, including lower economic productivity for the host country, forgone tax revenues, and lower incomes and living standards for the refugees and forced migrants themselves.

To build on the progress to date, CGD and Refugees International (RI) are embarking on a joint initiative funded by the IKEA Foundation, Tent Partnership for Refugees, and Western Union Foundation to:

  • generate evidence on the economic, social, and protection effects of increasing LMA;

  • develop recommendations to maximize its benefits, particularly for women and vulnerable populations, and mitigate challenges for both refugees and forced migrants, and their host communities; and

  • support efforts to mobilize the private sector to make the business case. Because of their unique role as market leaders and drivers of trade, investment, and innovation, businesses have an important (and currently underutilized) role in shaping policy and dialogue on LMA.

The initiative is supported by an Advisory Group composed of leaders and experts on refugee and forced migrant economic inclusion and labor market access.


Using Innovative Programming and Financing to Expand Labor Market Access for Refugees and Forced Migrants (December 2019)


Refugees' Right to Work: Progress and Remaining Challenges (July 2020)

Including Immigrants is Good Policy Not Just During the Pandemic, but Afterwards Too (June 2020)

Labor Market Access for Refugees and Forced Migrants: Lessons Learned from the Global Refugee Forum (December 2019) 

Beneficial Policies Towards the Venezuela Crisis Depend on Development Finance (November 2019)

CGD and RI Launch New Initiative to Expand Formal Labor Market Access for Refugees (June 2019)


Locked Down and Left Behind: The Impact of COVID-19 on Refugees’ Economic Inclusion (July 2020)

To find out more about the initiative, please contact Helen Dempster at

Related Experts

Photo of Cindy Huang
Non-Resident Fellow
Photo of Helen Dempster
Assistant Director and Senior Associate for Policy Outreach for Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy
Thomas Ginn
Research Fellow