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$300m World Bank project for labour market reform ‘to be approved in September’

By Khetam Malkawi - Jul 04,2016 - Last updated at Jul 05,2016

Syrian refugees work at a farm in the northern town of Sabha near Jordan's border with Syria recently (Photo courtesy of International Labour Organisation)

AMMAN — A $300 million programme to attract investors, reform the labour market and grant Syrians access to the workforce in Jordan is scheduled to be approved by the World Bank (WB) Board in September, the WB says. 

In a report on its website, the bank said the Programme for Results will support Jordan’s efforts to improve the investment climate, facilitate trade and promote investment, particularly in existing special economic zones. 

The project will also help Syrians contribute to Jordan’s economic growth and foster their entrepreneurship activities, the report said in June. 

“As part of the programme and in support of the Jordan Compact implementation, Syrian workers will receive work permits to be able to access formal jobs and the Ministry of Labour will establish employment facilitation services to implement the work permits reforms,” the report added.

In March, the bank announced a $100 million interest-free loan to Jordan to provide job opportunities for 100,000 Jordanians and Syrians. But with the new concessional loan to be approved in September, the government will be expected to provide 200,000 job opportunities. 

“This operation will be disbursed based on the achievement of key results linked to this overarching objective and to the implementation of the Jordan Compact,” the bank said in an e-mailed response to questions from The Jordan Times.  

Granting 200,000 work permits to Syrians is part of the agreed compact, the WB said, adding that other results focus on improving Jordan’s investment climate and attractiveness to domestic and foreign investors, with the ultimate aim of fostering economic growth and creating jobs for Jordanians as well as Syrians.  

The WB noted that Jordan has removed the requirement of a passport for Syrians applying for work permits, as this was an obstacle for many Syrian refugees. 

As of March 1, a Ministry of Interior ID card serves as a substitute for a passport, and in April, Jordan offered Syrians work permits free of charge, according to the WB. 

Officials at the labour and planning and international cooperation ministries did not respond to requests to comment on the procedures adopted so far to prepare for the WB programme. 

In April, the Ministry of Labour launched a three-month grace period for Syrians to obtain work permits free of charge using their Jordanian Ministry of Interior ID cards, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The decision followed Jordan’s announcement of a compact at the London donor conference in February. 

Under the compact, Jordan agreed to accommodate a specific number of Syrians in the labour market in return for improved access to the European market, increased investment and soft loans, the ILO explained in a report sent to The Jordan Times. 

According to the report, around 12,000 work permits have been issued to Syrian refugees since April. 

Since then, a new model allowing Syrian refugees to apply for permits through agricultural cooperatives has increased the number of work permits issued from 200 to 2,500, including 1,420 issued through cooperatives.  

The ILO said it hopes the grace period, which was due to end on Monday, will be extended to allow the agency to extend its advocacy work and support for the cooperatives and reach more people.

“We hope to reach another 4,000 Syrian refugees in the agricultural sector before the end of this year, as well as to target workers from other sectors,” said ILO Coordinator Maha Kattaa. 

“These efforts are all part of the process of formalising the work of Syrian refugees in Jordan and helping the government of Jordan fulfil its commitments of the compact,” Kattaa told The Jordan Times.

 

The number of registered Syrian refugees in Jordan now exceeds 650,000, most of whom live outside refugee camps. The government estimates that the total number of Syrians in Jordan is over 1.3 million. 

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