Migrants with insecure legal status and access to work: the role of ethnic solidarity networks

Janroj Yilmaz Keles, Eugenia Markova, Rebwar Fatah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – Building upon previous studies on the factors shaping undocumented migrants’ experiences on the host labour markets, the purpose of this paper is to expand the theoretical understanding of labour market participation and ethnic solidarity networks, accounting for the sending context of war and political persecution, and the trajectory to irregularity.
Design/methodology/approach – This paper extends the understanding of the role of ethnic solidarity networks on the labour market participation of migrants with insecure legal status. It draws on data from a questionnaire survey of 178 Iraqi-Kurdish migrants with insecure legal status, four focus groups and ten
expert interviews. Working conditions and sectors of employment are explored alongside strategies for accessing work and the role of ethnic solidarity networks.
Findings – The analysis of the data provides strong support for the theoretical expectations outlined above, assuming that the conflict-generated diaspora communities display a very distinct solidarity among its members, embedded in a shared history of conflict, persecution and identity struggles. Ethnic solidarity is put to the ultimate test in times of intensified enforcement of employment and immigration law. It stretches to accommodate the risks that employers take to provide work to their insecure co-ethnics, facing the tangible threat of raids, business closure, defamation and colossal fines, to mention but a few. In this context, the authors have defined “stretched solidarity” as a form of support and resource sharing among certain conflict-generated ethnic groups, embedded not only within a shared history of displacement, collective memory and trauma, and shared culture, language, loyalties, obligations and experiences but also in the
“reception context”, which may limit ethnic solidarity through restrictive immigration controls.
Research limitations/implications – The authors recognise the limits of the paper, which are that analysis is mainly based on experiences of the majority of whom were young and male migrants with insecure migration
legal status, rather than employers.
Social implications – This paper has identified the social phenomenon of “stretched solidarity” and has set out a model for understanding its embeddedness within conflict-generated diasporic networks. By drawing
together research insights and data on Iraqi-Kurdish migrants with insecure legal status, it addressed the central research question how “unauthorised” migrants get access to the segmented labour market at a time of increased in-border controls in the UK.
Originality/value – The paper contributes towards an enhanced understanding of the complex phenomenon of “stretched solidarity” and its role in migrants’ gaining access to and maintaining employment in the host labour market. The notion of “stretched solidarity” developed here provides a platform for identifying a number of emerging areas for further empirical study and policy thinking. This requires advanced research not only into the processes of migrants’ access to the host labour market but also into the role of ethnic networks, resources and structures that enable migrants in precarious situations to survive.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalEquality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2019


  • Conflict and migration
  • Displacement and migration
  • Ethnic networks
  • Labour market participation
  • Migrants with insecure legal status
  • Stretched solidarity


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