The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) – through its cooperation and partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide legal services to refugee groups – has contributed to a campaign to correct the conditions of foreign workers.
This campaign was launched by the Jordanian Ministry of Labor on 22nd September 2019 and continued until 30 January 2020. It included all nationalities on Jordanian territories whether refugees, asylum seekers, or migrant workers – with the exception of Syrian citizenship holders whom the campaign didn’t apply to due to the fact that the Syrian nationality is considered unrestricted. The Jordanian Ministry of Labor and relevant government entities have exerted great efforts to ensure the progress of these efforts and to provide quality services to beneficiaries, which has greatly contributed to rectifying the labor status of many.
In this blog, we consider the most important observations and challenges monitored by ARDD through its support for this campaign, underlining the importance of partnership and cooperation between civil society and the government to develop the process, achieve more success, and reach a wider number of beneficiaries.
ARDD, in cooperation with UNHCR and relevant government agencies, provided the following services as part of this campaign:
· As soon as the campaign was announced in September 2019, ARDD issued this explanatory paper addressing its prominent points, in addition to presenting many relevant observations and recommendations (more in the link)
· In cooperation with the UNHCR, ARDD received beneficiaries in branch and field offices, and made field visits daily to raise awareness of the importance of this campaign. These visits included presenting relevant, vital information to provide legal protection for refugees and migrant workers in order to help them avoid being victims of fraud and support them in taking advantage of the campaign’s grace period before its expiry. The following is an overview of the number of legal consultations provided during the campaign:
o Holding approximately (40) legal awareness workshops and field visits with the UNHCR mobile team in several regions in Amman and Zarqa
o Providing more than (300) legal consultations for refugees and migrant workers
· ARDD continued to report arrests directly to UNHCR’s protection and detention department to ensure follow-up and aid to asylum seekers. In the event that the person at-risk is registered with the UNHCR, ARDD’s lawyers conducted follow-up through several procedures in the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Interior, the Residence and Borders Department and the police directorates in order to successfully refute deportation decisions as relevant to the asylum seeker. However, unfortunately, the same procedures are not possible for persons who were not registered with the UNHCR, which in most cases resulted in their deportation.
Through the ARDD’s analysis of the most prominent questions and concerns received during the campaign, we present the following for the relevant stakeholders’ reference and consideration in future endeavors:
Challenges faced by asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers during the campaign:
· Short campaign period: The duration of the initial campaign was defined to approximately three months, which was extended for an additional month, extending the duration to four months. Based on our experiences, asylum seekers and refugees usually need more time to fully understand the details of the official campaigns, and follow up with reliable sources to get the right information, especially in light of many rumors that aim to distort facts and create as environment for fraud and exploitation of the vulnerable.
In addition to the complex circumstances of some refugees and asylum seekers in terms of lack of documents or invalidity of documentation, they were also challenged by lack of financial means, and lack of awareness of legal requirements and procedures that might require longer periods to secure in order to fulfill conditions of the campaign.
· The prerequisite to close asylum procedures files before rectifying the labor situation: This posed the greatest challenge in this campaign. In the event of registering as an asylum seeker or refugee with the UNHCR, the person seeking to benefit from the campaign must stop his/her asylum process to complete the correction of conditions process and be issued a work permit. This made it difficult for asylum seekers and refugees to determine their priorities and make a choice in the absence of any guarantees, neither in terms of securing a work permit nor for the possibility of re-registration with the UNHCR in case the work permit application was rejected.
· High financial cost: This is especially in relation to the fees for self-employment (construction and agricultural) permits, as the fees for the agricultural (self-employment) daily-work permit were set to cost essentially 1500 JD annually, and the fees for daily-construction work permits set to cost essentially 2000 JD annually. The cost of specialized skills work permits reached 2500 JD annually, and the fees for permits for domestic workers were reduced to 500 JD instead of 600 dinars. Although the Ministry of Labor later reduced these fees, they are considered costly compared to the conditions of expat workers and their wages in these professions.
· The exemption was limited to specific sectors: Many sectors were not exempted from paying the fines of not issuing work permits for previous years during the campaign’s period. The exemption was limited to some sectors and its percentage didn’t exceed 50%, and these fines also added to the challenge of high financial cost to rectify the labor conditions especially for refugees and asylum seekers.
Monitoring and analysis observations regarding the cases handled by ARDD during the campaign:
· One of the most urgent inquiries received was regarding the fate of the beneficiary in case the work permit issue/renewal application was rejected. In fact, a few cases were reported in which the persons were deported after the rejection of the application, without clarifying the details of this decision. ARDD continues to analyze these cases to understand details of the decision and how it relates to the work permit application rejection.
· The average number of cases received by the organization during the campaign period via emergency phone was 3-5 cases per week to report the arrest and/or issuance of a deportation decision for violating workers, most of whom were asylum seekers and in particular of Yemeni, Sudanese and Somali nationalities. It was also noted that several non-working asylum seekers were arrested during the campaign while walking on the streets, not while performing any type of work.
· Some cases were reported regarding the request for recovering savings entitlements from social security, stating that despite the successful ratification of their labor situation, their requests were rejected if they did not provide evidence that they are leaving the country.
· Since the beginning of December 2019, UNHCR has worked with the Jordanian government to establish a new mechanism for registering non-Syrian refugees in Jordan. The UNHCR states that registration for non-Syrians is currently suspended until the mechanism is developed, and that it will continue to give and renew deadlines to submit registration requests provided that these interviews take place after the implementation of the aforementioned mechanism. The Agency stressed its continued provision of protection and services to all registered asylum seekers and refugees Jordan.
Conclusion and recommendations:
It is important to note the great efforts that have been exerted by those concerned in the Ministry of Labor and the relevant official departments, who have worked to receive beneficiaries and follow up on requests in order to complete them in a timely manner. However, this campaign faced some challenges, some of which were mentioned above. A central overarching challenge that has become evident is the lack of coordination and preparation for this campaign in partnership with civil society and international organizations working in the field, which would have contributed to promoting awareness-raising among the target groups and expanding the campaign’s impact. Thus, we recommend the following:
· Increasing cooperation between all government agencies, local and international civil society actors, in addition to coordinating and networking to ensure the success of official campaigns.
· Holding internal trainings for employees in relevant official departments to contribute to the development and acceleration of these operations, and the unification of procedures and their effective implementation in the future.
· Granting groups of refugees and asylum seekers more time to for effective awareness about these campaigns and their relevant requirements, and clarifying the procedures needed to complete these requirements.
· Providing more free legal services, especially awareness-raising services, to ensure that information and procedures are published in a simplified and accessible way to enhance the confidence of the beneficiaries to take advantage of these important campaigns.
· Monitoring, observing and continuous evaluation to analyze the success of the implementation of these campaigns, and document the lessons learned for the purposes of improvement and development of any similar campaigns in the future.
· Sharing these conclusions with the concerned authorities to reach a cooperative and participatory approach that contributes to achieving the desired goals.
 The Syrian nationality is considered one of the unrestricted nationalities, i.e. the holders of Syrian citizenship are not obligated to obtain residency to stay in Jordan and they are only required to obtain a work permit if they want to work. For example, Syrian citizenship holders can issue a work permit which is exempted from fees and with minimal documentation even in other ordinary professions and at the same time they have special instructions regarding issuing a free work permit, be it agricultural or construction work permit.