November 17, 2017


November 17, 2017

Migrants arriving in a new city often have the same question: How can I work? The desire to rapidly create a symbiotic dynamic between new arrivals and their new environment is one that cities naturally share. Through the CITIES GROW project, Riga met Barcelona in a three days study visit to see first hands city’s policies, activities and practices in place on economic integration of migrants. A representative from UNHCR Thessaloniki also participated in the study visit which was coordinated by EUROCITIES and facilitated by the expert Sue Lukes of MigrationWork.

An unlikely pair

Barcelona and Riga may seem an unlikely pair. Barcelona has high levels of diversity and, thanks in no small part to ‘Living Together’, the city’s intercultural policy, levels of cultural and ethnic cohesion are on the up. Employment levels have been quite low since the crash, which took a great toll on the national economy. Further, their post-Franco context predisposes them against parties with a xenophobic platform.

Conversely, though Riga’s migrant policy is ahead of national policy, the limited experience of migration flow and the post-soviet context can make people slightly more wary of foreigners. While their levels of employment are very high, diversity in the labour market is comparatively low. How could two so different cities benefit from a knowledge exchange? Stick with us through Riga’s visit to Barcelona to find out.

Comparative advantage

Like countries, migrants themselves have comparative advantage – a doctor sent to work as a toothpaste taster is a doctor lost, and a toothpaste taster turned carpenter may mean a net loss in toothpaste tastiness. In other words, the way to create maximum benefit for both city and migrant is to ensure that the migrants skills are recognised and exploited.

This is the aim of Associació d’Ajuda Mútua d’Immigrants a Catalunya (AMIC), which supports and guides migrants throughout the validation of their foreign qualifications, analysing skills and creating professional profiles. Next, AMIC guides migrants towards tools such as training courses, as well as information on their legal rights and obligations. Work ready, the migrants are registered on a dedicated platform and can start sending out their freshly polished CVs.

Howdy, partner

As a healthy labour market can only be the result of collaboration between citizens, corporations and government, public-private partnerships are an obvious way of facilitating equitable employment opportunities. AMIC is one of many organisations working in such a partnership, the Service Centre for Immigrants, Emigrants and Refugees (SAIER).

Though 90% financed by the city, only SAIER’s director is a civil servant, the other 67, including three psychologists dealing with trauma, are provided by organisations such as AMIC, the Red Cross, and trade unions. At the front desk, staff with special intercultural training can tackle migrant’s cases using a wide variety of languages, increasingly necessary as the last five years have seen customer numbers rising from 11,800 to 18,000!


How do you train those migrants in need of greater skill specificity, and in what areas? Again, the input of employers is vital here, which is why another municipal agency, Barcelona Activa, works in coordination with business associations, educational institutions and experts to design its vocational training. Unlike the previous two organisations, Barcelona Activa works not only with migrants, but with all residents of the municipality, with the aim of promoting policies that will foster employment while boosting diversity and solidarity.

Their primary focus is on improving the labour opportunities of women and of the long term unemployed. To this end, they exploit opportunities such as public procurement by inserting clauses guaranteeing that the diversity within in the city is reflected in the workforce of successful applicants.

A key to making organisations like Activa available and useful to migrants and other vulnerable groups is having outposts distributed across the city that can function as a one stop shop for jobseekers, providing all available services at each outpost. Reaching a certain demographic can be achieved by setting up shop in areas where that demographic is known to be concentrated.

One of us

Like Barcelona Activa, the city programme Labora does not target migrants specifically, but embeds this element of its activities in a service available to all residents of Barcelona. The idea here is that all residents are treated as citizens, a strategy which helps to prevent ill feeling against migrants amongst the unemployed.

Another successful public private partnership, Labora is 90% funded by the municipality, with the other 10% handled by the 21 NGOs and civil society organisations involved, including the Red Cross. It provides individualised support for jobseekers and employers, for example through a database of candidates endorsed with a ‘professional training label’ and an online tool for matching candidates with the labour market.

The takeaways

What did Riga, so differently situated, gain from touring and learning about these programmes? First and foremost, they were struck by the importance of involving pre-existing organisations and networks, tapping into capacities and resources already present locally. Getting in bed with entities already present on the ground would also be a step towards ascertaining both the volume and needs of the migrant population, data which serves as an essential foundation for concrete action.

After this, the centrality of training, requalification, and especially skill recognition to the success of any potential programme was taken deeply to heart. Riga saw that recognising the skills that migrants are ready to bring to the table is at the core of labour market integration.

Finally, Riga took on the importance of fostering IT skills and cross-departmental collaboration, two central areas which Barcelona has met with many challenges in implementing. Taking the Labora programme as a starting point, with its city-wide one stop shops, Riga will now tweak this model in order to suit their own context.

The power of cities

One thing that emerged clearly from the visit to Barcelona was the incredible power of cities. Not only can they exert pressure to influence national policy, but they can immediately effect on the ground solutions. Even when cities do not have direct competence in a particular area they can always take positive action through their services to improve the situation.

Sometimes that can be as technical as linking migrants with information on the recognition of their qualifications and skills, or helping them find work through trainings and link to businesses, thus avoiding irregularity. But often, it can be as simple as sending out beacon for equality by taking that first step of giving every resident the dignity due to a citizen.

For more information on the CITIES GROW project visit the CITIES GROW page.
Contact: Silvia Ganzerla

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