CfP 2023 ECPR General Conference- Panel “No work, unpaid work, hard work. The (in)accessability of the labour market and the role of work in integration and asylum policies”

Panel: No work, unpaid work, hard work. The (in)accessability of the labour market and the role of work in integration and asylum policies.


Miriam Haselbacher (Austrian Academy of Sciences) & Helena Segarra (University of Vienna)


Within European asylum regimes, labour market policies are highly contested: On the one hand, access to the labour market is limited for many migrants, especially for asylum seekers and refugees. Furthermore, social support services and allowances are restricted. These legal barriers regarding the access to the labour market and social services effectively produce poverty, informal employment and increase the risk of exploitation. On the other hand, non-profit activities and “volunteering” are often the only possibilities to engage in some kind of occupation during the asylum procedure. However, low-paid or unpaid jobs are characterised by a complex relationship between voluntariness and coercion as these activities are sometimes legally acknowledged as “integration efforts”. This is supported by the fact that individual performance may increase the chances to acquire a right to stay. Most recently, the situation of Ukrainian refugees, who have direct access to the labour market, has made the differential treatment of various groups of refugees apparent

In this context, we observe several tensions and contradictions:

  • between societal expectations on personal performance vs. the aspect of vulnerability. While public opinion tends to favour access to asylum solely for those who are particularly vulnerable, refugees are expected to integrate exceptionally well (e.g. by acquiring language skills and entering the labour force) and to become financially independent as quickly as possible;
  • between policy goals and societal expectations. Although national asylum policies often set legal and structural barriers for asylum seekers to access the regular labour market, asylum seekers are at the same time accused of taking advantage of welfare provisions.
  • between the (informal) labour market access and the demand for labour. Due to the decoupling of work and labour market access in the asylum system, refugees can either do “voluntary” work linked to deservingness and prospects of staying, or can be exploited as undocumented workers.

This panel aims at exploring further these ambiguities and contradictions between work, integration and asylum policies through new theoretical and empirical insights. The goal is to shed light on legal and moral ambiguities concerning the access to the labour market and conditions of labour for refugees. We further welcome contributions that elaborate on the tensions between coercion and voluntariness regarding “voluntary”, unpaid and underpaid work for asylum seekers, on the tensions between public and policy conceptions of vulnerability and integration expectations in relation to labour, as well as on the ambiguities and entanglements between the labour market, labour rights, exploitation, asylum and irregular migration. Last but not least, we are interested in contributions that focus on the strategies and agency of forced migrants in negotiating and resisting the ambiguous realities and expectations related to work and labour.

Please send paper proposals (max. 500 words) to the panel chairs Miriam Haselbacher & Helena Segarra by Monday, 27th of February 2023.

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