Integration of migrant women in the EU Labour Market: challenges and opportunities

  • MILE 

Migrant women represent around 46% of the migrant population in Europe, with higher percentages in southern countries (Eurostat, 2018).

When migrant women and girls arrive to Europe, they face additional obstacles to integration compared to migrant men and boys, often having to overcome structural barriers linked to their being both a migrant and female, including facing stereotypes (European Commission, 2020:7). While migrant men usually arrive in Europe alone, women more often join as a family member at a later stage. In this case, they might not be targeted by integration policies on an individual basis but on their family status. This leads to their exclusion or limited access to integration support measures, skill assessments, trainings (Eurodiaconia, 2018:7) and good jobs. This condition – combined with family obligations, child care, lack of professional networks, insufficient knowledge of the host country language and context – take many migrant women to be often employed in jobs at the bottom ranks, which typically involve tasks that are culturally devalued (IOM, 2020:2). According to the OECD, in the European Union, 26% of migrant women are in low-skilled jobs (2020). Despite having a share of tertiary-educated similar to that of native-born women and migrant men, women born outside the EU are both more likely to be over-qualified for their job, and less likely to be in employment (European Commission, 2018). This is due to the EU industries that employ migrant women often in sectors with a high number of low- and middle-skilled jobs. In particular, migrant women in the EU are strongly overrepresented in household services. Close to one in twelve migrant women (8%) works in household services whereas the share among native-born women is a mere 1% (OECD, 2020:5).

These jobs, moreover, are usually very precarious, insecure and informal. Thus, migrant women are at greater risk of losing their jobs and of having no access to severance pay or social security (IOM, 2020:7). In 2019, 4.1% of unemployed women were out of work for more than one year, compared with 3.2% for their male counterparts (OECD, 2020:5a).

Gender differences in unemployment rates among migrants are particularly large in several Southern European countries and in Finland (OECD, 2020:4). The EU-27 activity rate for women born outside the EU (63.5 %) was 20.4 percentage points lower than that recorded for men (83.9 %) (Eurostat, 2019). The largest gender gaps in labour market participation among persons born outside the EU were recorded in Italy (29.3 points) and Greece (25.7 points) (Eurostat, 2019a).

Many of these inequalities have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Migrant workers are often excluded from accessing the COVID-19 measures implemented by the countries in which they work, including financial support packages, wage subsidies, income support and social protection (ILO, 2020:2). Many barriers continue to exist, which stem from immigration and employment laws that place many migrant workforces, especially migrant women, outside of the scope of health-care provisions (IOM, 2020:9).

Against this background, it is however acknowledged that recognising employment – including self-employment – and independent income are key steps in the overall integration process of many migrant women.

However, projects and initiatives in this field are mostly carried out with a bottom-up approach. A wealth of initiatives are presented at


Eurodiaconia (2018): Eurodiaconia’s Guidelines for the Integration of Migrant Women. December 2018. Eurodiaconia, Bruxelles. Available:

European Commission (2018): Integration of migrant women. November, 2018. EC, Bruxelles. Available:

European Commission (2020): Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027. November 2020. EC, Bruxelles. Available:

Eurostat (2018): Migration and migrant population statistics. Available:

Eurostat (2019): Migrant integration statistics – labour market indicators. Available:

International Labour Organization – ILO (2020): Protecting Migrant Workers During the COVID-10 Pandemic: Recommendations for policymakers and constituents. April 2020. ILO, Geneva. Available:—ed_protect/—protrav/—migrant/documents/publication/wcms_743268.pdf

International Organization for Migration – IOM (2020): COVID-19 AND WOMEN MIGRANT WORKERS: Impacts and implications. Available:

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – (OECD) (2020): Migration Policy Debates n.25. November 2020. OECD, Paris. Available:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *