Economic Research Forum (ERF)

How has Jordan been affected by the Syrian refugee influx?

Since 2011, Jordan has been buffeted by powerful external forces related to the political situation in neighbouring countries, not least the arrival of almost 1.3 million refugees from the conflict in Syria. This columns outlines research presented in Amman in May 2018 on the impact of the Syrian refugee influx on the employment, education, housing and demographic outcomes for Jordanians.

In a nutshell

While Jordan has been negatively affected by deteriorating security in its neighbours and the associated economic disruptions, the effects of the Syrian refugee influx per se have been fairly limited.

Low-income Jordanians were already experiencing competition from migrant workers in the labour market – and Syrian refugees are now competing in this space.

Jordanians are also affected in the housing market: again the impact is concentrated among low-income households.

How has Jordan been affected by the Syrian refugee influx? ERF researchers are addressing this question at a meeting in Amman this month, 13-14 May 2018. A high-level policy conference organised jointly by ERF, the Economic and Social Council of Jordan and the Jordanian Department of Statistics (DoS) is exploring the impact of the Syrian refugee influx on the employment, education, housing and demographic outcomes for Jordanians.

The research presented at the conference relies primarily on the second wave of the Jordan Labor Market Panel Survey (JLMPS) undertaken in late 2016 and early 2017 by ERF in cooperation with DoS. The JLMPS is a nationally representative longitudinal household survey first carried out in Jordan by ERF and DoS in 2010 on a sample of 5,000 households.

Besides following the households and individuals originally interviewed in 2010, the JLMPS 2016 adds a refresher sample of 3,000 households, which has oversampled neighbourhoods with a high proportion of non-Jordanians as a way of obtaining a representative sample of refugees and migrants.

Since 2011, Jordan has been buffeted by powerful external forces related to the situation in neighbouring countries. The deteriorating security situation in the region as a whole, and Syria in particular, has resulted in large flows of refugees into Jordan, a reduction in tourism and foreign investment, and the disruption of trade routes to Syria and Iraq.

These challenges have put serious strains on the Jordanian economy, which are manifest in a substantial slowdown in economic growth, a decline in employment rates among Jordanians and an increase in their unemployment rates.

At the same time, Jordan has received generous assistance from the international community to help it cope with the large inflow of Syrian refugees. The aim of the assistance has been to support Jordan and turn the challenges into opportunities, providing services to the refugee population as well as strengthening the resilience of Jordanian communities.

But given the magnitude of the challenge, these external resources are unlikely to be sufficient to shield Jordanian society completely from the adverse consequences of the crisis.

Discerning the impact of one set of shocks among many is difficult at best. A ‘before and after’ comparison would ascertain the impact of the combined forces affecting Jordan’s society and economy during this six-year period. To isolate the specific effects of the refugee influx, what is needed is a careful research strategy that compares areas differentially affected by the refugee influx before and after the shock.

The policy studies presented at this conference are based on a series of carefully executed academic research papers that pursue state-of-the-art analytical methodologies to disentangle the effects of the refugee influx from those of the overall economic crisis that Jordan has faced over the same period.

With regard to developments in the labour market, it is clear that the challenges faced by Jordanians pre-date the Syrian influx. With a large and growing inflow of migrant workers – mostly from Egypt – into Jordan, the proportion of job creation going to Jordanians has decreased substantially since the mid-2000s.

Coupled with a slowing economy, this has meant that employment rates among Jordanians, which are already low by international standards, have continued to fall and unemployment rates have increased. The Jordanian government has increased hiring in the public sector over the period 2010-16, in part to respond to the need to provide services to the refugee population.

Despite this, poorer, less educated Jordanian male workers, who compete directly with foreign workers for informal and irregular private sector employment, are the most negatively affected. Because of low qualifications, they have less access to the newly expanding public sector, and their employment has become more precarious, with a substantial increase in the share employed irregularly (Assaad and Salemi, 2018; Wahba, 2018).

Few of these adverse developments can be directly attributed to the influx of Syrian refugees per se. Less than a fifth of adult Syrian refugees were working in 2016 despite the availability of work permits. The findings reveal that the labour market outcomes of Jordanians in areas with greater exposure to Syrian refugees were not more adversely affected than those in other areas (Fallah et al, 2018).

Some of the adverse consequences of the labour supply shock represented by the Syrian influx appear to have been absorbed by migrant workers already in Jordan. These migrant workers were more likely to be employed informally and to be working fewer hours in localities where there was a high concentration of Syrian refugees (Malaeb and Wahba, 2018).

With regard to education outcomes, there is little evidence that Jordanians have been negatively affected by the influx of Syrian refugees. Jordanian authorities appear to have accommodated the influx by adding a second shift to existing public schools, with the assistance of the donor community.

In areas with large numbers of refugees, these second shifts appear to be primarily for Syrian students. As a result, measures of school crowding for Jordanian students are essentially unaffected by the influx. Out of 12 education outcomes we have examined, only one appears to be negatively affected by the influx of Syrian refugees (Assaad, 2018).

In terms of housing outcomes, there is some evidence that the housing quality of poorer Jordanian households has improved less rapidly in areas affected by the Syrian refugee influx than in other parts of the country. These households compete directly with the type of housing that Syrian refugees are seeking.

On the other hand, Jordanian households in the top half of the income distribution increased their housing quality more rapidly in areas with high exposure to refugees, a sign that they were avoiding the kind of housing demanded by refugees (Al-Hawarin et al, 2018).

In terms of demographic outcomes, there is no evidence that the Syrian refugee influx has affected marriage or fertility rates among the Jordanian host population (Sieverding et al, 2018).

Overall, the evidence from this research project indicates that while Jordan has been negatively affected by the deteriorating security situation among its neighbours and the associated economic disruptions, the effect of the Syrian refugee influx per se has been fairly limited.

Low-income Jordanians were already experiencing a great deal of competition from migrant workers in the labour market, and it appears that Syrian refugees are now competing in this same space. Managing migrant worker flows to mitigate the adverse impacts on low-income Jordanians appears to be the most logical course of action.

The other area where Jordanians appear to be affected is in the housing market. Again, the impact is concentrated among low-income households, who will need to be targeted with housing subsidies in areas that are highly exposed to the refugee influx.

Responses in the education sphere appear to have adequately protected Jordanian students from any adverse consequences so far.

Further reading

Al-Hawarin, Ibrahim, Ragui Assaad and Ahmed Elsayed (2018) ‘Migration Shocks and Housing: Evidence from the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Jordan’, ERF Working Paper, forthcoming.

Assaad, Ragui (2018) ‘The Impact of the Syrian Refugee Influx on the Education and Housing Outcomes of Jordanians’, ERF Policy Brief No. 33.

Assaad, Ragui, and Colette Salemi (2018) ‘The Structure of Employment and Job Creation in Jordan: 2010 to 2016’, ERF Working Paper, forthcoming.

Fallah, Belal, Caroline Krafft and Jackline Wahba (2018) ‘The Impact of Refugees on Employment and Wages in Jordan’, ERF Working Paper No. 1189.

Malaeb, Bilal, and Jackline Wahba (2018) ‘Migration Dynamics During the Refugee Influx in Jordan’, ERF Working Paper No. 1190.

Sieverding, Maia, Caroline Krafft and Nasma Berri (2018) ‘How are Families Changing in Jordan? New Evidence on Marriage and Fertility Trends among Jordanians and Syrian Refugees in Jordan’, ERF Working Paper No. 1187.

Wahba, Jackline (2018) ‘The Impact of the Syrian Refugee Influx on the Jordanian Labor Market’, ERF Policy Brief No. 32.

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