Access to work rights and economic opportunities are crucial to becoming self-reliant and securing a sense of dignity. Work rights are also a prerequisite to a refugee meaningfully contributing to – often bolstering – their host community economy. The legal right to work is an effective, long-term strategy to integrate refugees and benefit from their contributions while other permanent solutions continue to be explored. Unfortunately, accessing lawful employment is challenging and often impossible for refugees.
According to UNHCR, as of the middle of 2018, Asia hosted 9.4 million refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and stateless people. However, out of all 27 South, Southeast and East Asian countries, only 7 (China, Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Timor Leste, Afghanistan and the Philippines) have signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. More importantly, many parts of Asia are experiencing acute labor shortages. East Asia would have to import 275 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 by the year 2030 to maintain the current share of its population who are of working age.
From the 2016 report by Philippe LeGrain -- the most comprehensive study available on how refugees contribute to host countries -- found that refugees “help create jobs, raise the productivity and wages of local workers, lift capital returns, stimulate international trade and investment, and boost innovation, enterprise and growth.” Asian countries hosting refugees and asylum seekers therefore have an opportunity to tap into their pool of informal workers and incorporate them into a structured workforce that could benefit their economies. This opportunity can only be unlocked if refugees’ work rights are respected and protected.
In light of this, TrustLaw connected HOST International and Asylum Access to six legal teams to examine the rights of refugees to work safely and lawfully in eight countries in Asia: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. It features country-specific scorecards examining policies and practices in each country. It is hoped that this report will provide all stakeholders with a clear baseline and starting point for engaging with refugee work rights in Asia.
The research was led by the in-house team at Nokia with support from Baker McKenzie, Bae, Kim & Lee LLC, BTG Legal, DLA Piper and SyCip Salazar. Due to the collaborative nature of the project, it won the TrustLaw Collaboration Award for 2019. The report was also formally launched at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019.