Iraqi Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdish migrants in Europe: policies you should know

Iraqi Kurdish migrants in Europe: policies you should know

What are the requirements to get a job in Europe as an Iraqi Kurdish migrant? Are asylum seekers allowed to work? Which countries have changed their policies towards irregular migration? What if I do not speak the language?

Understand the key policy changes and conditions regarding employment that any would-be migrant or irregular migrant from Iraqi Kurdistan should know. This may save you crucial time and resources.

Life in transit

Irregular migration often takes much longer than expected. Border crossings within Europe are challenging. Thus, many Iraqi Kurds end up spending months, sometimes years, in transit countries including Greece, Turkey and France.

Life in transit can prove to be highly challenging as irregular migrants do not have legal status, no protection and only limited resources. Many migrants work along the way to try to recoup the money they lost on the journey. They are vulnerable to labour exploitation and human trafficking. Learn more about the 9 dangers Kurdish irregular migrants face enroute to Europe.

Irregular migrants with no income are at risk of being homeless and living on the streets. Rather than supporting their families, migrants in Europe often have to ask for more money in order to survive.

Policies towards irregular migration in Europe

It is illegal for migrants to travel to Europe to improve their economic situation without an appropriate visa. European countries have tightened their immigration laws, making it harder for irregular migrants to transit and stay (more information below), forcing many Iraqi Kurds to return to Kurdistan.

European Union countries have signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and are interested in protecting refugees who follow the rules. They also need to control their borders and check whether migrants qualify as refugees. Governments must know who is entering and leaving the country to safeguard public services and protect citizens from terrorists, drugs and crime.

Working in Europe as an Iraqi Kurdish immigrant

Finding a job in Europe is very different to finding a job in Iraqi Kurdistan. You first need to have a visa as the employment market is much more formal, and everyone must have legal papers in order to find a job. Irregular migrants cannot get jobs, and governments do not offer any support.

Asylum seekers in Europe are not allowed to work while their application is being processed. Iraqi Kurds seeking asylum in Europe: read before applying.

There are special law enforcement agencies, called labour inspectorates, whose job is to identify illegal workers. Those working illegally are always at risk of getting arrested. Unscrupulous employers know this and can use it to threaten and exploit migrants.

A visa does not grant a job

Migrants often need to gain new skills in order to find a job. The types of jobs available in Europe are very different to Iraqi Kurdistan and require different skills. Qualifications from Iraq will not necessarily be recognised by employers in Europe. Just as in Kurdistan, it is often difficult to find jobs without a pre-existing network and contacts.

Racism and suspicion toward migrants are also barriers to accessing jobs. A 37-year-old Iraqi Kurdish migrant who spoke to Seefar in 2017 explained: “When I was in Germany, I met racist people. I have been called ‘black head.’ I met people who threw words like ‘why don’t you go back to your country and live as a typical Muslim.’ It is really painful to be in a country where people treat you like this.” While only a minority may think and behave this way, ethnic minorities often face racism in European countries.

Do you speak the local language?

There are language barriers for many migrants who reach Europe. The ability to speak and write the language of the destination country is fundamental to being able to operate independently and access work in Europe.

A basic knowledge of English, for example, usually does not guarantee work. Reading and writing the local language is often necessary in order to get a job in Europe. Getting to the necessary standard takes time and resources.

The unemployment rate is high in countries like Greece and Italy, particularly for young people. It is sometimes difficult for locals to find jobs and significantly harder for migrants who do not speak the language fluently.

European countries are changing their migration policies

Many countries continue to make changes to their policies and laws to make it more difficult for irregular migrants to enter, pass through and settle in Europe. Below are just a few examples for your information.

In May 2018, Italy’s government changed and is now made up of many right-wing ministers from a populist party called the Five Star Movement that have a strong anti-immigration stance. Their election campaign was built around promises to deport 500,000 illegal immigrants. In June 2018, the Minister of Interior told migrants ‘to get ready to pack their bags’. In recent months, Italy has refused to let some migrant boats land on its shores leaving hundreds of migrants stranded out at sea trying to find a place to dock.

In July 2018, the German government agreed on tougher controls on immigration after mounting pressure from within government and the public. Migrant transit processing centres will be replaced by a system in which the police deal directly with transit processes.

In April 2018, France passed a new, much stricter immigration bill which doubles the amount of time that illegal immigrants can be detained. It also introduced a one-year prison sentence for anyone who enters France illegally.

The former French migrant camp in Calais known as “The Jungle” was demolished in October 2016 and the French authorities relocated migrants to centres around the country where they could apply for asylum to enter into other European countries. Security forces now prevent migrants from settling back there. Charities cannot distribute food and tents to migrants seeking shelter in the woods. The French police even subjects migrants to tear gas, beatings, destruction and confiscation of possessions.

Austria, who elected a government with a stronger anti-immigration stance at the end of 2017, took up EU Presidency in July 2018. The Austrian government has stated that it wants to use its presidency to push for a tougher EU response to irregular migration.  The new government also announced plans to cut the number of asylum seekers it accepts, the support they receive and to permit the confiscation of irregular migrants’ belongings such as mobile phones.

Hungary passed a bill to allow the automatic detention of irregular migrants and employed more border security officers. In June 2018, the parliament of Hungary passed laws criminalising individuals or groups helping irregular migrants seeking asylum.

In 2017,  Poland and Slovenia, announced measures that would close their borders to asylum seekers.

The Danish government has passed a law that allows police to seize irregular migrants assets when they enter the country.

The United Kingdom (UK) is leaving the EU. Migration was part of the debate leading to Brexit. Border security is likely to become stricter in the UK.

The Netherlands have intensified border security to prevent irregular migrants from going to the UK via their ports.

Sweden also deports irregular migrants, like 45-year-old Zhyan Ahmed*, a mother of three children who lived in Sweden for six years, four of them irregularly. “They took me to a prison seven hours away from my home and I was in a solitary confinement at first. Then they put me in a hall with 50 other people waiting to be deported,” she confessed back in Kurdistan.

In June 2018, European Union (EU) leaders reached an agreement to tackle migration via a new unified approach. They agreed to setting up controlled centres across Europe to accelerate the asylum process.

The EU joined efforts with Turkey to tackle irregular migration

In March 2016, the European Union (EU) signed an agreement with Turkey to stop irregular migrants entering Europe. It was agreed that any irregular migrant entering the EU through Turkey would be returned to Turkey.

Smugglers often take migrants by boat from Turkey to the islands of southern Greece. These islands, however, are very small, have limited resources and are far away from mainland Greece and the rest of Europe.

As a result of the EU-Turkey Agreement, Greece now has a containment policy and does not allow the majority of migrants to travel to the mainland. While transport to the mainland is blocked and returns to Turkey are being processed or contested, thousands of migrants are trapped on these small islands.

Some have been there for well over a year and the wait and poor living conditions are having detrimental impacts on migrants’ physical and mental health.


One may think that reaching Europe is the most difficult step of an irregular migrant’s journey from Iraqi Kurdistan. While irregular migrants encounter life-threatening dangers outside of Europe, there are significant challenges awaiting them in the EU.

  • Iraqi Kurds may never reach their final destination, as crossing transit countries is more expensive, riskier and takes longer than one may expect. Migrants may spend months, even years in transit, ending up arrested and deported back to Iraq, Turkey or the first European country they arrived in.
  • European countries forbid irregular migrants and asylum seekers to work. Migrants that are legally allowed to work face other challenges while job-seeking: European countries may not recognise their qualifications and those who do not speak the local language will find it difficult to find a job.
  • An increasing number of European countries are changing their policies toward migration and irregular migration in particular. Iraqi Kurds, like other irregular migrants, are more likely to be arrested, detained and deported.

As a consequence, trying to migrate irregularly from Iraqi Kurdistan to Europe now is a riskier decision than ever, which may cost one’s savings, youth and even life. Fortunately, there are several interesting alternatives to irregular migration to Europe Iraqi Kurds may consider.

Please share this information with anyone it may help.


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