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Rudaw

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Influx of Iranian migrant workers worries Kurdish labor union

By Rawa Abdullah 14/11/2018
Construction work in Erbil. File photo: Sirwan Aziz / Rudaw
Construction work in Erbil. File photo: Sirwan Aziz / Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – US sanctions on Iran could lead to a spike in the number of Iranian migrants coming to the Kurdistan Region to work, according to the Kurdistan Laborers Syndicate. 

Workers coming to the Kurdistan Region are classified as two groups – one arriving after getting a license from the Ministry of Labor to work for a company or as a house servant, the other arriving independently to search for work. 

According to figures released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, some 51,000 foreign laborers have been brought to the Kurdistan Region over the past 11 years through 163 licensed companies – 26,000 laborers for projects and 25,000 for house care. 

These figures do not include those workers who came independently.

“Due to the second round of US sanctions on Iran and the possibility of worsening living conditions, we predict thousands of Iranian laborers will turn to the Kurdistan Region,” said Sabir Othman Ali, head of the workers syndicate Erbil branch.

“That is why we call on the government and relevant departments to limit the importation of foreign laborers, especially Iranian workers, in an attempt to ensure job opportunities for local people and reduce unemployment.” 

Data from the Ministry of Labor shows foreign migration to the Kurdistan Region is on the rise. During the first 10 months of 2017, some 3,529 foreign workers arrived, rising to 3,882 during the same period in 2018.

“Most laborers asking for work permit are from Iran, Turkey, and Syria. They mostly come from Iran and their numbers are increasing day by day because of the impact of US sanctions on Iran,” said Karzan Ali Ibrahim, head of Erbil labor.

“Iranian laborers mostly do construction, service, and technical work. They are men and women. Women mostly come to work in cafeterias or beauty salons,” he added.

There are currently no legal barriers stopping foreign laborers coming to the Kurdistan Region, provided they have a job offer and obtain a work permit.

“Due to an increasing number of foreign laborers, especially Iranian workers, in the Kurdistan Region, job opportunities have decreased and wages have fallen too because Iranian laborers work for half the money local laborers demand,” Ali said.

Many foreign laborers, especially Bangalis and Nepalis, who were working in Iraq before have now turned to the Kurdistan Region due to the volatile situation in the south. The Ministry of Interior recently issued a decree regarding work permit for these workers. Now they must pay 1 million IQD ($842) to get a work permit and a fine of 1 million IQD if they are found working in the Kurdistan Region without a permit.

Dr Sami Jalal, an interior ministry official, told Rudaw: “Bengalis currently in Kurdistan have a deadline of December 31, 2018, to register with us and pay these 2 million dinars in order to be able to stay in Kurdistan. After this deadline expires, we will arrest and deport those who don’t have permits.”

According to a survey conducted by the Kurdistan Region’s statistics body, the unemployment rate in the Kurdistan Region stood at 6.5 percent in 2013, and 13.53 percent in 2016 because of the financial crisis and the war with ISIS.

The unemployment rate rose by nearly 7.3 percent between 2013 and 2015.

According to a survey conducted by the same body in cooperation with the UN migration agency IOM, unemployment had dropped by 3.33 percent in 2017 and the overall unemployment rate in the Kurdistan Region was 10.2 percent.

As the unemployment rate rose, so too did the rate of inbound migration. From 2007 to 2013, when the unemployment rate stood at 6.5 percent, the ministry allowed in 21,396 foreign workers. During the financial crisis when unemployment rose to 13.53 percent, the ministry issued permits to 29,832 foreign workers.

Didar Mohammed, head of the work permits department, said: “In order to create job opportunities for local laborers, we have introduced many filters for bringing foreign workers through companies. 

“Companies asking for workers should first explain to us what type of laborers they want and reveal how they will pay them. We won’t allow them to bring in foreign workers if there are local laborers. 

“In case there are no local workers, the company should advertise the job opening in a daily newspaper for a period of 15 days and should put local people in the position if there were local people wanting the position. If there is no one, we will then allow the company to bring in foreign laborers,” he added. 

Mohammed said local workers will not accept all types of work. For example, an Erbil steel mill had asked for 180 local laborers, but only managed to hire 30. The ministry is therefore allowing the mill to import foreign laborers.

“The excuse the Ministry of Labor and companies use for bringing in foreign laborers is that local workers don’t do all types of work. But we think employers ask for foreign laborers in order to do maximum work for minimum wages. They say local workers do not work when they realize local laborers are not satisfied with these minimum wages. Then they bring in foreign laborers,” he added.

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