Asylum seekers are entitled to access the labour market, without limitations on the nature of employment they may seek. In terms of the Reception Regulations, this access should be granted no later than nine months following the lodging of the asylum application. In practice, asylum-seekers are authorised to work immediately.
In May 2021, the Maltese Ministry of Home Affairs introduced a new policy that denies asylum seekers from countries included in the list of safe countries of origin the right to work for nine months from the lodging of their application. On 5 June 2021, 28 human rights organisations endorsed a statement issued by the Malta Refugee Council, expressing their concern about this new policy. The statement described the new policy as “discriminatory and inhumane”, claiming that it is aimed at denying people the possibility to work and earn a living.
NGOs outlined that asylum-seekers from countries deemed safe are now deprived of the income necessary to secure a minimum level of human dignity and self-reliance. The NGOs deplored that the absence of any meaningful State support will leave these asylum seekers no other options than resorting to extreme labour exploitation or dependence on the material support provided by non-State entities such as NGOs, friends/social networks, and the Church. It also makes them infinitely more vulnerable to involvement in criminal or other irregular activity.
Jobsplus is the Agency in charge of delivering ‘employment licences’ for asylum seekers, the duration of which varies from three months for asylum seekers whose applications are initially rejected, up to six months for those whose applications are still pending. Fees are payable for new licences (€58) and for every renewal (€34).
In 2021, Jobsplus issued 3,723 employment licence, the countries of origin that received the most licences being Gambia (377), Mali (370), Nigeria (364), Ivory Coast (306) and Somalia (257). The number of licences issued do not correspond to the number of holders, since a person can apply for it more than once according to the length of the permit. Permits issued to people originating from countries of origin listed as safe amounted to 16% of the total number of licences issued. However, it must be noted that the policy came into force only in the second half of 2021.
In practice, employers are deterred from applying for the permits because of their short-term nature and the administrative burden associated with the application, particularly in comparison to the employment of other migrants.
Asylum seekers, even if not detained, face a number of difficulties, namely: language obstacles, limited or no academic or professional background, intense competition with refugees and other migrants, and limited or seasonal employment opportunities. Asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa or Asia are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Issues highlighted include low wages, unpaid wages, long working hours, irregular work, unsafe working conditions, and employment in the shadow economy.
A 2019 report from UNHCR Malta highlighted the challenges encountered by migrants in employment. Up to the moment of writing, it can be said that the same issues have still been registered. The lack of clarity or information and administrative challenges when applying for work permits is said to constitute a significant obstacle, along with the difficulties associated with recognition of qualifications and skills, as well as language and cultural barriers. Furthermore, the report documented the situation of beneficiaries with protection in another Member State, especially Italy, who come to Malta and who are denied the possibility to work. The report also confirmed that, amongst beneficiaries of international protection, female participation in the labour market is considerably low.
UNHCR also noted that many service-providers such as unions, recruitment agencies, and employers’ associations, are extending their services to refugees and have recognised the importance of reaching out to them.
A number of vocational training courses are available to asylum seekers, some also targeting this specific population group. In recent years JobsPlus, the national employment agency, implemented an AMIF project targeting asylum-seekers and protection beneficiaries and focusing on language training and job placement. Organisations such as KOPIN or Hal Far Outreach try to offer support with CV Writing and Job Search support. JRS also organised an empowerment workshop in 2020, specifically looking at skills for employability. In 2021, the Migrant Advice Unit (MAU) began assisting residents with updating a CV and looking for work. However, a number of residents still make use of the service offered by NGOs such as JRS and Integra.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many migrants lost their jobs or remained unable to work for several months.
The above-mentioned policy also introduced a new system whereby Jobsplus is obliged to request clearance from the Immigration Police for each employment licence issued. This led to an increase of rejections due to ‘security issues’, without provision of further information. NGOs reported difficulties obtaining access to the applicants’ files to obtain the reason of the rejection from Jobsplus or the Police. People that had been issued several employment licences in the past saw their applications refused from one day to the other without any reason. Asylum seekers are not informed of their right to appeal the decision before the Immigration Appeals Board.
 Information provided by JRS Malta 2021.