MIGRATION SERIES BY TRANSNATIONAL PRESS LONDON
TURKISH MIGRATION 2016
MIGRATION SERIES BY TRANSNATIONAL PRESS LONDON
Jeffrey H. Cohen
Deniz Eroğlu – Jeffrey H.
Cohen - Ibrahım Sirkeci
TURKISH MIGRATION 2016
Compiled by Deniz Eroğlu, Jeffrey H.
Cohen and Ibrahim Sirkeci
These papers are a corrective to the limits of the poles and to
any other models that seek to dehumanize migrants and cast
refugees as the victims of processes they cannot control. Our
interests range across the social sciences and the humanities
and engage with experiences and theories that contextualize
mobility and look beyond the limits of the news cycle to answer
fundamental questions about mobility and Turkish migration. The
voices represented define some of the very best work taking
place around the world and exploring the outcomes of mobility.
Eroğlu, D. Cohen, J.H., Sirkeci, I.
(eds.) (2016). Turkish Migration 2016
Selected Papers. London: TPL.
Chapter 21. Turkey’s Policy on Employment of
Syrian Refugees and its Impact on the Turkish
The war in Syria is one of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time, with
millions of people forced into refugee status in neighbouring countries. In addition,
at least 470,000 Syrians have died in this conflict and Syria has lost 29.8 per cent
of its HDI value in 2015 compared to 2010 (SCPR, 2016, p.17). As the immediate
neighbour, Turkey has responded to this humanitarian crisis, declaring a temporary
protection regime for Syrian asylum-seekers and setting up 26 camps where
267,000 people are currently staying. The country already struggles to cope with
nearly 3 million Syrian refugees, and this number may rise further following the
agreement to stop Syrian refugees from flooding into the EU.
At first, the Turkish government predicted that Syrian President Bashar Assad
would be toppled in a short time and hoped “guests” (a word chosen over refugees)
would be able to return home. However, the Syrian crisis enters its six year and
Turkey finds itself in a very difficult situation. Accommodating and aiding the large
number of Syrian refugees is a great burden for Turkey’s public finance. Besides,
Turkey has to manage the massive economic, social, demographic and security
challenges worsening with each passing day. Even though granting work permits
for Syrians hasn’t been treated as a priority for a long time, Turkey finally realises
that Syrians are staying and need job opportunities to survive.
The temporary protection the Turkish government has granted does not
automatically provide Syrians the right to work. On the contrary, work permit
applications of those under temporary protection have been rejected until recently
(Erdoğan & Ünver, 2015, p. 41-42). Initially, Syrians entering the country with valid
passports were able to apply for residence permits and then for the right to work.
However, most Syrian refugees possess no passport, and the ones with valid
passports cannot renew them once they expire. Since the application process was
long and cumbersome, Syrians, no matter what their qualifications, were mostly
employed illegally and often paid very low wages (Dinçer et al., 2013, p. 25-26).
In a major shift of policy, Turkey has started to offer Syrian refugees work
permits. This will most likely have an affect on the Turkish labour market,
considering that there are millions of Syrians ready to work. This paper aims to
examine the current impact of Syrian refugees on the Turkish labour market at the
regional level, and to predict possible changes in wages of the local population and
local unemployment levels after the policy goes into effect.
Cihan KIZIL is a PhD. Candidate at Faculty of Economics of Istanbul University, Main Campus,
34452 Beyazıt/Fatih, Istanbul. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turkey’s New Regulation Granting Work Permits
The Turkish government announced “Regulation on Work Permits of Foreigners
under Temporary Protection” in January 2016. On the eve of this regulation, Deputy
Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said that 7,351 Syrians had been granted work
permits since the onset of the Syrian crisis, a dramatic statement showing how
Syrians were excluded from the formal labour market (Çetingüleç, 2016).
Moreover, most of these work permits were acquired by Syrians having adequate
capital to start their own business. According to the statistics of the TOBB
the Ministry of Economy, 1,599 companies with Syrian partners were established
in 2015, and the total number of companies with Syrian capital was 3,680 at the end
of the year 2015.
Through the regulation, registered Syrian refugees who have been in Turkey for
at least six months are allowed to apply for work permits in the province where they
first registered. Work permit applications will be made available online by the
employer through the e-government portal. In addition, independent work permit
applications can be made by the foreigners under temporary protection by
themselves. Syrians with work permits cannot be paid under minimum wage;
however, the number of Syrians working in a given enterprise will be limited to
10% of the employed Turkish citizens. Those under temporary protection who will
be employed in the seasonal jobs in agriculture and stockbreeding sectors are
exempted from the work permit.
Without question, Syrians living in the country were in need of this regulation.
However, the regulation on the employment of Syrian refugees might go in effect
too late. In most European countries, a Syrian refugee receiving a protection status
and temporary residence permit under the 1951 Geneva Convention is able to apply
for permanent residence permit (Konle-Seidl & Bolits, 2016, p. 21). For refugees,
the Convention provides a first step to obtain a work permit. Additionally, many
universities in the EU, the USA, Canada, and Australia offer special scholarships
for Syrian refugees to recruit bright Syrian minds. Due to opportunities provided
for qualified refugees, many Syrians already left Turkey and made it to Europe and
other countries mentioned above. Turkey had similar chances in its history;
however, it has failed to take advantage of the influx of highly qualified labour force
especially during World War I & II. The contribution of a small number of scholars
employed in Istanbul University during World War II shows the opportunities
Turkey has missed in the past.
Syrian Refugees and Their Impact on the Turkish Labour Market
Investigating the impact of Syrian refugees on the Turkish labour market is not
an easy task since Syrians are mostly employed illegally. Moreover, available data
for formal and informal employment do not represent the current situation. Yet there
are some attempts to measure the effects of the refugee influx empirically.
Akgündüz, van den Berg, and Hassink (2015) perform the diﬀerence-in-diﬀerences
exercise to find the impact of the refugee influx on inflation and employment rates.
Their findings suggest that while housing prices increased, employment rates of
The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey.
Turkish Migration 2016 Selected Papers
natives in various skill groups are largely unaffected. Ceritoğlu et al. (2015) perform
the same method to compare the outcomes of the natives in the regions that receive
refugees to those that don’t receive them, before and after the Syrian crisis. They
find notable employment losses among informal workers as a consequence of
refugee inflows, while the impact of Syrian refugees on wage outcomes were
insignificant. According to their results, females, younger workers, and less-
educated workers were affected the worst by the refugee influx. Del Carpio and
Wagner (2015) find similar results, but also an increase in formal employment –
only for Turkish men without completed high school education, though.
All of the studies mentioned above examine the pre-2014 period in Turkey.
However, the current Syrian population in Turkey is 5 times more, and all provinces
receive Syrian refugees with increasing rates. While Turkey hosts 3 million Syrians,
it is hard to claim that there is no effect of Syrians on the Turkish labour market.
Even though the current situation is different, the results of these studies indicate
some important points.
Table 1 shows the 26 NUTS level-2 regions of Turkey and highlights the six
regions having refugee camps. Currently, 267,000 refugees are staying in these
camps, and additional hundreds of thousands of Syrians prefer staying in the same
regions where camps are located. However, Kızıl (2016) draws on regional data to
show that Syrian refugees in other twenty regions start to realise that they will be
staying long term in Turkey. Therefore, Syrians under temporary protection seek
job opportunities and move to relatively developed regions for livelihood purposes
once they realise that they will not return home soon.
In this study, we draw on migration statistics provided by the Ministry of Interior
Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM). Additionally, the
numbers of people employed in the regions, regional unemployment rates and
population numbers are taken from the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat). We
assume that the total number of people employed refers the employment capacity
of the given region. These statistics are summarized in Table 2.
Unfortunately, we do not have regional Syrian population data for 2014 to
compare with 2015; however, the total number of Syrian refugees in 2014 was
1,519,286 according to the statistics the DGMM provided. In a year, approximately
one million Syrians were registered, and possibly, most of these new refugees
registered in the border regions. As seen in Table 2, three of the regions where
refugee camps are located (TR63, TRC1, and TRC2) hosted more than four hundred
thousand refugees each in 2015. The total Syrian population in six regions was 70%
of all Syrians registered in Turkey. With regard to this striking ratio, severe effects
should be observed in these regions.
TRC3, TRC2, and TR63, three regions with refugee camps, have the highest
unemployment rates, according to 2015 statistics. Moreover, unemployment rates
increased (0.8%, 0.1%, and 1.0% respectively) in these regions between 2014 and
2015. However, these regions were among the least developed regions in Turkey,
even before the refugee influxes started (Kızıl, 2015). Therefore, it cannot be
asserted that Syrian refugees are the sole responsible factor in this situation. This is
an important point that researchers should not miss. However, there is another
region, TRC1, which gives precious information about the effect of Syrian refugees.
According to the results of Kızıl (2015), TRC1 is one of the regions showing
significant jumps in the development rankings. Besides, unemployment levels in
this region were always below the Turkey average in the recent years. Another
important point to note is that TRC1 has the highest Syrian-Turkish population ratio.
In the light of these facts, the increase in unemployment level of TRC1 from 8.0%
to 9.9% becomes meaningful and gives a clue on the effect of Syrian refugees.
Table 1: NUTS level-2 regions and provinces they cover.
REGION CODE PROVINCES
TR21 Tekirdağ, Edirne, Kırklareli
TR22 Balıkesir, Çanakkale
TR32 Aydın, Denizli, Muğla
TR33 Manisa, Afyon, Kütahya, Uşak
TR41 Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik
TR42 Kocaeli, Sakarya, Düzce, Bolu, Yalova
TR52 Konya, Karaman
TR61 Antalya, Isparta, Burdur
TR62 Adana, Mersin
TR63 Hatay, Kahramanmaraş, Osmaniye
TR71 Kırıkkale, Aksaray, Niğde, Nevşehir, Kırşehir
TR72 Kayseri, Sivas, Yozgat
TR81 Zonguldak, Karabük, Bartın
TR82 Kastamonu, Çankırı, Sinop
TR83 Samsun, Tokat, Çorum, Amasya
TR90 Trabzon, Ordu, Giresun, Rize, Artvin, Gümüşhane
TRA1 Erzurum, Erzincan, Bayburt
TRA2 Ağrı, Kars, Iğdır, Ardahan
TRB1 Malatya, Elazığ, Bingöl, Tunceli
TRB2 Van, Muş, Bitlis, Hakkâri
TRC1 Gaziantep, Adıyaman, Kilis
TRC2 Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır
TRC3 Mardin, Batman, Şırnak, Siirt
In order to assess the relationship of refugees' location choice with economic
capacity, Pearson’s r and Spearman’s rank correlation analyses have been
performed. The results of these correlation tests are summarized in Table 3. When
we consider all NUTS level-2 regions of Turkey, Pearson’s r correlation coefficient
indicates a weak relation (0.329), Spearman’s rho coefficient indicates a moderate
relation (0.521). However, once we take out of the six regions with camps, the
relation becomes very strong according to the both correlation methods. This result
Turkish Migration 2016 Selected Papers
is quite important as it shows that finding a job is the primary motivation to migrate
from the border regions to the other ones.
Table 2: NUTS level-2 regions and provinces they cover
Source: Turkstat, DGMM, and author calculations.
Table 3: Correlation coefficients.
** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed)
Source: Author calculations.
Refugee / Native
As it can be expected, Istanbul (TR10), the region having the most employment
capacity, received the highest number of Syrian refugees except for the six regions
close to the border. Even though unemployment rate increased one point and this
increase is above the Turkey average, we need more data to support the claim that
Syrian refugees affect the labour market in TR10 significantly. Besides, there is no
sufficient evidence from other regions since the shifts in unemployment rates are
not highly correlated with refugee-native population rates. Unemployment rates
summarized in table 2 show mixed results.
There are few studies on the effect of Syrian refugees, and they cover only the
pre-2014 period due to lack of data. We have some remarkable statistics from the
last years, but they are not sufficient to perform econometric methods. Yet, we
obtain some valuable information from the previous studies and the analysis above.
First, Syrian refugee influx mostly affects informal employment, and disadvantaged
groups (such as females and less-educated workers) are affected the most. Second,
finding a job is the priority for refugees, and they move to relatively developed
regions for livelihood purposes. Third, Syrians might really affect the formal
employment level of the regions where the Syrian population highly concentrates.
These findings are important to predict the effect of new regulation on the Turkish
Turkey put into force the regulation granting work permits to those under
temporary protection five years after the outbreak of the Syrian crisis. As the
country had missed the previous chances to take advantage of the influx of highly
qualified labour force, it probably missed this chance as well. Highly qualified
workforce has fled mostly to the Europe in these five years.
Turkey hosts millions of Syrian refugees, and they need proper jobs for a
dignified life. Previous studies and statistics related to the years before the
regulation show that Syrians seek job opportunities, but they are mostly employed
illegally. Syrians are considered as a cheap labour force by small firms in Turkey,
and it is unlikely that new regulation urges these employers to employ Syrians
legally. Syrians, especially with the lack of Turkish language, will be continue to
be exploited. However, there are a lot of medium- and large-sized companies
searching for qualified workers in Turkey. Now these companies are able to hire
Syrian workers through the regulation since they tend to employ workers legally.
Currently, Syrians may be unaware of the regulation, but especially qualified
workers will seek better and legal jobs sooner or later. The increase of supply in the
informal labour market has prominently affected informal employment of natives.
Moreover, the number of Syrians in Turkey has increased tremendously in the last
years, and it has already started to affect formal employment of natives in some
Following the regulation, the labour supply in the formal labour market
gradually increases; as a consequence, a decrease in wages and an increase in
unemployment levels of natives can be expected. However, these effects might be
smaller than expected because the regulation brings a 10% quota for the Syrian
workforce. We expect that informal employment of Syrians will continue, and
Turkish Migration 2016 Selected Papers
especially low-skilled Turkish workers might lose their jobs or be forced to accept
low wages. There will be another competition in the labour market for more
qualified Turkish workers as well. However, high-skilled natives might face a
weaker competition since highly qualified Syrian workforce has already left the
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