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Integration of Female immigrants in labour market and society

FEMIPOL aims at ...

This study aimed at exploring and analysing the impact of integration policies, at both national and EU levels, on the position of migrant women within EU countries in the last decade, and at formulating recommendations for appropriate policy that fosters their integration and produces greater social cohesion.

Executive Summary

The project offers an interesting view of the female migrants and their integration in labour market and society within EU countries. It contains an evaluation of integration policies, covering eleven EU 25 national cases. The analysis of integration processes focused not only on barriers for social integration and on their removal, but also on the migration strategies and life plans of the female migrants.
The policies developed in European countries during the last decades are examined considering above all two aspects:

  • the integration of migrants, by migration and naturalization policies, the regulation of residence and work, the social and political participation of migrants, policies of control of illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings
  • the regulation of employment in sectors with high participation of migrant women, with particular regard to domestic and care work, prostitution, unemployment and illegal work.

In particular, this study aimed at analysing and assessing the impact of integration policies by identifying 8 key themes, questions relating to these themes and policy recommendations:

  • Integration of migrant women into the labour market
  • Migrant women in the informal sectors of the economy
  • Domestic workers
  • Skill enhancement (including language skills) and skill recognition
  • Civic Participation
  • Migrant women in prostitution and entertainment
  • Residence rights, and legalisation
  • Combating trafficking and the integration of victims of trafficking


Employing a combination of methods, the project used a four stage analysis: (i) analyzing policies affecting the integration of female migrants (document analysis, expert interviews), (ii) analyzing migration flows and mapping the processes of dispersion of female migrants, as well as analysing the demand for the labour of female migrants, (iii) analyzing integration processes in relation to female migrants (biographical interviews with migrant women), (iv) analysing processes relating to the implementation of social policies (narrative interviews with social service officers).


Integration of migrant women into the labour market

Critical Points

Focus on …
United Kingdom

As far as conditions for migrants work in the domestic sector are concerned, migrants employed in
this immigration category do not require a work permit, although they need to obtain prior entry
clearance (permission to stay for 6 or 12 months). There is a Domestic Worker Visa (since 1998) available only for workers accompanying employers (coming together with their employer). However, employers may employ domestic workers who are already in the UK on a range of different visas including student visas, WHM visas, business visas, au-pair visas etc

  • The labour market participation of female migrants is constricted by the public provision of care: limited access to care provision has proven to be a significant problem for female migrants, who need to adapt their paid work according to domestic and care responsibilities
  • Current employment strategies miss the target to create adequate conditions for long-term integration; they form a growing unstable segment of the workforce, which remains on the margins of the labour market
  • De-regulation and flexibilisation of labour market create ethnic and gender segmentations, which confine female migrants excessively in low paid, low status jobs, experiencing the insecurities and instabilities of part-time, short-term employment contracts and, in many cases, informal types of work
  • Some measures, like forms of training, as well as different job schemes, provide opportunities for the female migrants integration to labour market. However, these measures present some shortcomings both in terms of short-term and long-term integration. Job schemes and training opportunities, for example, are limited to those female migrants with irregular status and temporary residence permits.
  • The policies that foster the distinction between ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ migrants facilitate the entry of the highly skilled, whilst restricting that of low-skilled labour migrants, asylum seekers, and those seeking family reunification. These kind of policies produce gendered effect, resulting from gender divisions and structures in both sending and receiving countries, as well as the gendered nature of ‘skills’ that structure policies (for example, the devaluation of care as a profession)
  • De-skilling as well as downwards social mobility is an experience shared by most female migrants. This is due to lack of recognition of heterogeneity within groups: for example, the distinction between highly skilled labour migrants and asylum seekers disregards the fact that there are many highly skilled in the latter group. In most countries, asylum seekers do not have the right to work, leading to de-skilling and a massive waste of skills

Policy recommendations

• Evaluate the gendered effects of general policies, including welfare and labour market policies (focus on United Kingdom)
  • Adopt a rights-based approach to migrant workers, and separate residence rights from employment rights
  • Improve the opportunities for female migrants to pursue their labour market aspirations (through recognition of skills and qualifications; providing increased access to forms of training and work-practice; helping women enter the labour market)
  • Consider integration in terms of a long-term perspective
  • Include a strong emphasis on the socio-economic dimensions of integration
  • Reach the most disadvantaged groups (for example by using forms of mentoring, and providing access to valuable social networks)
  • Give asylum seekers the right to work in countries where this is currently prohibited


Migrant women in the informal sectors of the economy

Critical Points

  • Many changes within labour markets (for example, flexible labour) create conditions for exploitation by employers, who desire cheap and docile labour, to take advantage of the deregulation of the labour markets and welfare regimes. That causes a specific demand for informality
  • The criminalisation of undeclared work is particularly disempowering for female migrant: the ‘punishment’ for the migrant worker is always much harsher than that given to employer as she will face deportation at the end of the day (focus on Germany)
  • Political systems that tie residence and work permit to particular jobs for particular employers are problematic and distort labour relations at the expense of the worker
  • The migration policies, which regulate the legal status of migrants across the EU, disadvantage the most vulnerable groups in the labour hierarchy (such as asylum seekers and other third country migrants)

Policy recommendations

Focus on …

Current policy is greatly concerned with regulating informal labour, notably through the Law for combating illicit work, and tax fraud related to illicit work, that came into force on August 1st 2004, and turned undeclared work into a criminal offence. This law gets implemented mostly in sectors dominated by male migrants, such as construction, but also in certain sectors in which female migrants work, like prostitution. The domestic sector, however, is less controlled.

  • Divorce residence rights from work rights: restrictive legislation constrains migrants’ access to the labour market and access to public services
  • Extend rights to both atypical workers and undocumented workers
  • Act preventively by creating effective exit strategies for undocumented migrant workers via positive incentives for regularisation, access to trade union and labour rights, and full civic participation in the country of reception
  • Regularisation of undocumented female migrants and their immediate decriminalisation to empower NGOs and trade unions to properly support them
  • indeed undocumented female migrant work is linked to a range of problems (health risks, risks concerning the reproductive health of migrant women and forced separation from their families)
  • grant full rights to work for women asylum-seekers, under the same conditions as all other workers
  • design policies for altering negative social representations and stereotypes associating the individual to her/his ethnic/cultural/national group
  • enhance self-organisation as well as full participation in all mainstream institutions in order to enable the integration of female migrants

Proportion of women in migrant stock (%)

Source: United Nations International Migration stock, 2002 (UNPD 2002) and 2005 revision (UN 2005)


Domestic Workers

Critical Points

  • A large number of domestic and care workers have an unstable legal status
  • Immigration laws and care policies construct immigrant/foreign domestic and care workers as “helpers” and “assistants”. This is in contradiction with the need of professionalization in domestic work, where indeed considerable skills are required
  • Live-out domestic work often implies having multiple employers and fragmented working hours
  • Live-in arrangements are associated with the risk of being trapped in this sector against one's will and being subjected to exploitation. On the other hand, live-in arrangements may provide a transitional solution to housing problems as they enable workers to cope with instability, precariousness and occasional housing problems. They also help workers to save money on rent.

Policy recommendations

Take into account the variety of domestic and care worker categories and experiences

  • Take into account the variety of domestic and care worker categories and experiences
  • The need for the professionalisation of this sector, especially in care for the elderly and children
  • Professionalisation procedures should recognize the skills and knowledge that migrant domestic care workers have acquired on the job. Professionalization is also related to empowerment and awareness of rights and the ability to negotiate work conditions and contracts (see focus on Cyprus)


  • Professionalization and formalization of domestic work are possible only if domestic and care workers possess a work and residence permit. The EU enlargement offers the opportunity for the legalization of a range of domestic and care workers citizens of new EU countries. In addition, provision should be taken for the legalization of domestic and care workers from Third Countries (see focus on France)
  • Language and orientation courses are needed which provide domestic and care workers with a stronger competency in the host country, so that mobility within and out of the domestic sector becomes possible. It should be secured conditions for the reconciliation of work and family life for domestic workers, as well as potential for family reunification. This would facilitate the social integration of domestic workers, which in turn will increase the quality of services and social cohesion


  • State must support self-organizations of migrant domestic and care workers
  • Provide better information for women migrating through cultural exchange programs (au pair schemes) about the reality of housing and working conditions


  • Intergenerational live-in arrangements It should be developed involving students' helping with domestic work or care in exchange for housing, but not at the expense of professionalization or making domestic and care services affordable for households(see focus on United Kingdom)


Proportion of women in migrant stock (%)

Figure 1 - Unemployment rate in OECD countries Source: Silke Steinhilber, Labour Force surveys, EUROSTAT, cited in OECD 2003


Focus on …


About conditions for migrants working in the domestic sector, migrants employed in this immigration category do not require a work permit, although they need to obtain prior entry clearance (permission to stay for 6 or 12 months). There is a Domestic Worker Visa (since 1998) available only for workers accompanying employers (coming together with their employer).However, employers may employ domestic workers who are already in the UK on a range of different visas including student visas, WHM visas, business visas, au-pair visas etc


About personal services, the aims are: - meet the domestic demand by increasing private individual employers’possibilities to be relieved of reproductive work. This goal will be reached via the bank and pre-financed Universal Service Job Check (CESU - Chèque emploi service universel). - improve the structure of the (labour) supply, by giving an impetus to the development of referral agencies for a variety of domestic services, presented as guaranteeing the quality and increasing the professionalism of the sector


There are no specific policies regulating domestic and care work in Cypriot context, except for ‘the procedure for the employment of domestic assistants’. The procedure of issuing work permits is based on applications by employers which should meet the criteria for employment of foreigners (i.e. the investigation of the possibility of satisfying the needs of the employer by local labour force, Cypriot or European citizens). The employment of domestic workers in private houses is conditioned by the employers fulfilling some conditions and moreover, all employers must submit a bank guarantee letter to cover possible expenses of repatriation. In terms of negative consequences of the policy, despite that the contract provided is a standard one from 1990 up to 2007 domestic workers have not received any pay rise. The National Equality Body found that the monthly salary provided in the contract is five times less than the wage of a Cypriot domestic aide

Skill enhancement (including language skills) and skill recognition

Critical Points

• Migrant women have limited access to language and other courses (especially those employed in the informal labour market). Instead, migrant women are often self-taught and use their personal resources to learn the language (they watch TV, buy and use dictionaries, read children’s books, etc)
• The infrastructure in countries practising the “open” approach (that is language skills don’t represent a prerequisite for granting long-term residence) is often insufficient in terms of providing language and integration courses
• There is limited access for migrant women to information about the recognition or equivalence of degrees and qualifications; procedures are bureaucratic, time-consuming and often charge high fees, so few migrant women manage to complete this process
• Both the lack of language proficiency and of skills recognition has a negative impact on migrant women’s access to the labour market (especially formal).

Policy recommendations

Focus on …

The law which regulates the presence of immigrant population is the Reception and Integration Contract. Initially the signing of this contract used to be optional, but after the approval of the 2006 law (n°2006-911 of July 24) the signing of this contract became compulsory. Temporary residence permit renewal and residence card issuance depend now on the signing of this contract and on the observance of the corresponding obligations (receiving a civic training and attending language courses whenever necessary attested by obtaining of a ministerial certificate of language competency). The failure to comply with the Reception and Integration contract can be sanctioned and language courses are now made compulsory

• Free language courses for migrant women offered at flexible hours and on various days in order to enable the participation of domestic and care workers who have restricted time schedules. Language courses should be accompanied by courses helping migrant women to access the labour market (interview techniques, writing a CV, replying to ads, confidence building, etc.) and ways of learning about their rights as workers (see focus on France)
• A close collaboration between local authorities, educational institutions, and NGOs supporting migrants
• Development of appropriate and innovative methods that help to identify skills and competences in order to make them visible and have them recognised on the basis of the European Qualifications Framework approach. This focuses on what a learner knows, understands and is able to do (i.e. one’s 'learning outcomes'), regardless of where a particular qualification has been acquired
• Promotion of migrant women’s equal access to information about qualifications and skills recognition, accreditation and equivalence procedures

FOCUS indicators of the recent feminisation of migration flows (% of women among immigrants arrived for 10 years or less) Notes: Data for Germany are for 1992 and for Austria and Sweden for 1995 Sources: Oso and Garson (2005)


Civic Participation

Critical Points

Focus on …

A declared objective of the new migration law is the rationalization of administrative procedures related to the regularization and issuance of residence and work permits. However, beyond these intentions, the perseverance of strict formal preconditions, in reality, discouraged a great number of migrants from applying for regularization. Moreover, the general conditions for maintaining the legal status are actually prohibitive, these include the short duration of the permits issued, the preservation and increase of bureaucratic procedures, and high charges stemming from stipulations linked to work and residence permits which currently amount to 150 Euro annually and constitute an indirect form of taxation on foreign nationals. Substantial measures for integration have not been proposed, apart from the vague criterion of “adequate knowledge” of the Greek language and history to be assessed by a special committee. This runs the risk of arbitrariness, particularly at the expense of female migrants who, working in an informal economy, have no access to information and training structures

  • Civic participation of migrants is an entirely new topic especially for all the new EU member states (such as Slovenia, Cyprus), but also seems a worrying “taboo theme” in several other states e.g. Greece). As long as migrants are only considered “temporary guests” (i.e. foreign workers on short-term work and stay permits), the issue of the full development of migrant communities, including their own economic, social, cultural and political structures, will remain obscured in public discourses (see focus on Greece)
  • Harsh conditions are experienced by migrant women, both in terms of accessing the labour market on equal terms as nationals, and in terms of their formal status and general social position in society
  • “Third-country nationals” are excluded from political rights, unless they naturalise. The political life of migrants is low or non-existent in countries with weak civic involvement in general, and where migrants’ self-organisation is lacking

Policy recommendations

  • More governmental programmes are necessary that would stimulate and finance female migrants’ civic participation
  • Allowing full enfranchisement only via national citizenship should be superseded. Good practices based on local (municipal, regional) experiences from those states where civic participation of migrants is already in place through various forms of migrants’ consultative bodies, etc., should be examined and widely adopted
  • Enhancing different forms of political participation at local level
  • Policy-makers should recognise the results of research, which point to a need to acknowledge the meaning and significance of active civic participation for migrants in assisting integration, as well as allowing them the ability to voice their specific problems and become active participants in their resolution, as well as active participants in future policy-making processes.
  • Trade unions should be more receptive to gender issues and should open up towards “undocumented” migrants, especially those in the domestic sector and in prostitution.

Unemployment rate in OECD countries Source: Silke Steinhilber, Labour Force surveys, Eurostat, cited in OECD 2003


Migrant women in prostitution and entertainment

Critical Points

Focus on …

Specific populations find specific employment, as may be inferred from the growing number of Chinese restaurants that create a demand for Chinese migrant labour. Similarly, Thai women find work as masseuses in Thai massage parlours that are becoming increasingly popular because of their common location in the spas and health centres. However, such cases provide merely anecdotal evidence, such as are the general observations that women from the Dominican Republic might be involved in the sex industry.
The research on prostitution and trafficking in persons relating these phenomena to the demand side identified a need for a proactive policy, i.e. integration programmes for victims of trafficking, efficient employment programmes for women, providing them with substantial financial support while searching for new employment – in order to prevent potential forced labour

• We must focus primarily on the concrete experiences of those who enter prostitution, practice it as an income generating activity, and possibly shift to other activities

• In part depending on modes of entry, the terms and conditions of work vary greatly

amongst women in this sector. They provide services on private premises, flats and massage parlours in countries where prostitution is tolerated, as long as it is not conspicuous in public places (France, the UK), or in brothels, as in Germany, where it has been legalised since 2002. The most vulnerable are street prostitutes who, threatened by repression and deportation, are relegated to remote and unsafe places at risk of violence from clients and pimps

• Access to legal status and residency is a central issue and represents the first step towards exit, which is impossible without “papers”

Policy recommendations

• Repressive and restrictive policies contribute to illegalisation, in particular concerning entry and residence of foreigners, criminalisation of any activities supporting prostitution. They limit alternative job opportunities and drastically deteriorate the conditions under which the commercial sex activities are practiced. Soliciting should be decriminalized(see focus on Germany)

• Legalisation of the undocumented should be accompanied by measures that guarantee security and provide long term residence and yield viable alternatives to those who wish to exit the sector

Focus on …

On January 1st, 2002 the Prostitution Law came into force. This law abolished the idea of prostitution as “offending good morals”. Consequently, the contract between a prostitute and her client about the payment for sexual services has become legally enforceable. The new law aims to create better working conditions and social insurance for women voluntarily working in prostitution. However, the consequences of the new law and its implementation are not as impressive as expected. It has hardly motivated women in prostitution to regularize their work, as most of them prefer to stay anonymous. Most of them seem to share the social values that condemn prostitution, and to regard work in the sex industry as a limited period in their life that will enable them to earn the money for realizing their life plans. Moreover, a major obstacle to the regularization of sex work appears to be taxation: by declaring their occupation, sex workers risk to be confronted with unaffordable back-dated tax liabilities

• Accompanying services, counselling, health centres and NGOs should get support
• The stigmatisation and stereotyping of night club dancers, strippers and prostitutes must be deconstructed and combated so as to enhance women's mobilisation in favour of their rights
• The work permit for dancers, strippers (entertainers) should not be tied only to specific employers, so as to enable free choice of employment
• Current policies of resettling in the country of origin for victims of trafficking should be seriously reconsidered. Every precaution must be taken to ensure that the women can realize a vocational identity, and not be placed again in the position that made them enter prostitution in the first place








Residence rights and legalization

Critical Points

• Some of the EU countries (e.g. the German and the Cyprus temporary immigration for domestic work) directly and explicitly oppose the integration of migrants. The same applies with regard to regularization schemes, which prove ineffective and fragmentary

Focus on …

Spain manages a peculiar strategy against irregular migration.The Aznar government introduced repressive measures in 2003, with the Law 11 of 2003 “Concrete measures on matters of citizen’s security, domestic violence and social integration of foreigners”, with new articles of the penal code and finally with the Law no. 14 of 2003. When José Luis Zapatero won the elections in March 2004, he transformed the most repressive aspects of the Law 14 no. of 2003. His new policy is characterized by a fight against the irregular migration through an exceptional amnesty (or regularisation) and through a flexible continuous system that allows the passage from an irregular to a regular situation (el arraigo laboral and el arraigo social) under certain circumstances. All these measures represent a serious attempt of managing migration and fighting against irregular migration, recognizing the needs of the labour markets and the rights of the persons. In the 2005 regularization process circa 700.000 foreign citizens managed to regularize their situation. Of these regularized demands, a considerable part regarded domestic workers: “In Spain, the 2005 regularization scheme also benefited a large number of migrant workers in this sector: 191,570 work permits were issued to foreign migrant domestic workers (of whom 89 per cent were women), representing 33.4 per cent of the total number of regularized workers”. This campaign is to be the last and most extensive regularisation of immigrants, providing an opportunity for the irregular inhabitants (estimated to be over a million people) left behind by the previous government, to regularise their stay. The basic requirements of this new regularisation included:
1. To have a work contract with a duration of at least six months, or
2. To be able to demonstrate continuous activity in the provision of domestic services.


• European Commission’s Green Paper on the future Common European Asylum System The tend to concentrate on the creation of overall and all-embracing policies, whilst disregarding vulnerable groups with specific needs. But specific needs of female migrants and the types of constraints (and forms of exploitation) they experience are not taken into account in the legalization mechanisms

• The limits of current migration politics are related to undocumented migrants who do not make use of state sponsored free legal aid; lack of legal information make immigrant groups particularly susceptible to human trafficking; moreover lack of stability in services provided by migrant/minority organizations and groups is an additional obstacle in the provision of adequate support

• European countries usually have a two-tier system of support structures, combining officially appointed authorities (ministry departments etc.) and independent entities, often based on migrants’ associations and/or NGO, thus lacking recognition in the eyes of the government

• There is a shortage of organizations (and funding) for free legal assistance, including information on legalization options which by their nature demand professional character of advice

• Legal status is crucial but does not ensure an automatic and complete integration process, for which numerous aspects have to be met

Policy recommendations

• Introduction of independent legalization mechanisms, which do not subject the female migrant (both with regards to employment-based legalization and family-based legalization) to the male relative and take into account the specific nature of the occupations taken by female migrants (see focus on Spain)

• Launching of a comprehensive information policy, aimed at preventing falling into illegal status, the possibility to gain legalization (including legal aid to illegal migrants, presumably to be offered by non-state agents)

• Changing the prevailing mode of promoting joint applications for asylum from spouses who arrive together. Often this results in an inferior position for the woman in the subsequent procedure, as she is deemed to share the husband’s situation and therefore share his status in a derivative way

• Addressing the policies of family unification which should take into account the particular needs of women. There is a need to facilitate the procedures of granting independent work permit to migrant women with family reunification status. It is important to create a legal possibility of giving temporary residence permits for the premarriage trial/accommodation period

• Simplification, transparency and shortening of official procedures affecting migrant women concerning issuing residence and work permits or asylum

• Tying the validity of work permits to residence permits should be dropped, so that one is not revoked automatically at the expiration or cancellation of the other


Combating trafficking and the integration of victims of trafficking

Critical Points

Focus on …

Italy has implemented a rather innovative legal instrument aimed at fighting THB (Law no. 228 of 2003 "Measures against trafficking in human beings"), which assumes the core principle of article 18 of immigration law decree no. 286 of 1998. Differently from other European legislation, the Italian Law grants residence permits to sexually exploited victims of trafficking regardless of whether they have entered the country illegally or whether they are willing to testify against their exploiters. We can consider article 18 as good practice, compared to the legislation existing in other countries

• The term “trafficking” covers various illegal practices: sexual exploitation organised by transnational criminal networks; street prostitution managed by small criminal groups inside large migratory flows crossing the borders through smugglers; practices of children exploitation; and forced marriage and forced labour
• The complexity of the issue of trafficking has to be considered also in relation to the different status of prostitution in the different countries. The problems of implementing protective policies for victim of trafficking are:
• difficulties in cooperation amongst NGOs and law enforcement agencies
• discretion in granting residence permits for victims of trafficking
• bureaucratic obstacles (for instance, long period to obtain the temporary residence permits)
• incoherent policies of the National Governments (and the EU) in the field of migration
• inadequate level of information exchange on activities and good practices (at local and national level) amongst different types of institutions, as well as amongst offices of the institutions itself (i.e. police)
• current legislations, especially their implementation, seem unbalanced, mainly promoting repressive actions against traffickers rather than safeguarding and protecting the victims
• once returned to their countries of origin, either through being expelled or involved into voluntary return projects, trafficked women may suffer retaliation from traffickers and/or social stigmatisation
• the exploitation of women is a structured market: an increasing supply exists just because a demand from the clients exists
• the root causes of THB lie in the countries of origin: poverty, lack of educational level and employment opportunities, etc.

Policy recommendations

  • The issue of trafficking in human beings (THB) isn’t merely a criminal problem. Repression is not the solution and it may raise awareness amongst the police forces (and magistrates)
  • Implementation, at the national and international level, of various Protocols and Conventions on the issue of THB (paying particular attention to women and minors) that have been signed and ratified by EU countries
  • Formulation of more precise rules at national and international level, taking into account the tools developed by Italian Law no. 228/2003
  • Extending the tools present in Italian Law no. 228 of 2003 to ALL victims of  THB, not only those who have been sexually-exploited
  • Building up networks and working groups composed of representatives of different institutions at local, national and international level
  • Ad hoc (legal and social) measures aimed at protecting the victims
  • Monitoring of assisted returns in order to guarantee protection of the trafficked people. This could be achieved by developing social and labour market integration programmes for victims of THB in their countries of origin, in cooperation with national governments, international organisations such as IOM, and local NGOs
  • Information campaigns addressing the clients and potential clients of the sex markets, for instance inside schools
  • Circulating flyers containing information on support possibilities should be obligatory, especially in the transport agencies and particularly in Eastern European countries
  • Financial support for the development of cooperation in the countries of origin
  • Placement of social street workers at the important arrival/entry points for detecting, as soon as possible, helpless cases of migrants
  • Entertainment visas should be controlled and they should not bind the women to the employers (see focus on Italy)