Britain urged to offer work visas as part of sweeping support package for Jordan

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Jordan’s ambassador to the UK has urged the Conservative government in London to open Britain’s borders to skilled workers from his home country to help deal with soaring unemployment rates as he battles the burden long term of millions of refugees from its neighbours.

Manar Dabbas said an increase in visas would go a long way to helping his country reinvigorate its beleaguered economy as it absorbs the shocks of conflict and division across the Middle East.

In the 12 months to June 2022, Britain issued fewer than 11,000 permits to Jordanians, the majority of which were for short-term visits.

More than 11 years after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Jordan continues to host around 1.3 million refugees from the neighboring country.

It also supports 2.1 million Palestinian refugees – most of whom fled their homeland decades ago – as well as 100,000 Iraqi refugees. People with refugee status represent 36% of the total population.

The country’s hospitality to those fleeing violence has in recent years strained the country’s health, education and water supply sectors and pushed unemployment up to 22%.

The massive influx of refugees has pushed the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to debt ratio from 60% to 94%, according to figures from the Jordanian Embassy in London.

Jordan has offered 300,000 work permits to refugees, allowing them to work in agriculture and construction. But since the majority of Syrian refugees are paid in cash, the economy does not benefit from taxes and Jordanians struggle to compete.

Speaking to the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee on Tuesday, Dabbas called on Britain and its partners to help Jordan by offering more cash donations and longer-term assistance.

“The UK has done its part and, as an ally and a strategic partner, has worked alongside [Jordan] since day one,” he said.

Mr Dabbas added: “The UK is unique in that it is a great convener through which the UK could bring together key international players as it did in 2019 with the London Initiative” – a major international conference held in the British capital aimed at supporting investment, growth and jobs for Jordan.

While acknowledging that the UK is facing difficulties due to the energy crisis, he stressed that “the UK is in a very good position to do something similar to what it did in 2019” .

He suggested that Britain could “explore the possibility of bringing more skilled Jordanian labor into the UK market and also push some foreign investment” to the developing country.

The surplus of qualified and trained doctors in Jordan was mentioned as an area for potential collaboration, given that the UK’s National Health Service is short of doctors.

Mr Dabbas said that during the early years of the refugee crisis, Jordan had received a “good response” from the international community in terms of refugee aid. But in recent years, cash flow has been reduced to a trickle.

“Donor fatigue…is not an option or a choice because this was a crisis that was not of our making,” he said. “This is a crisis that has been imposed on us and so we have shouldered the burden of this crisis as part of our commitment and our international obligations.

“Therefore, the international community should intensify its efforts to increase its support for Jordan.”

He added that UNHCR working in Jordan is facing “shocking” numbers and huge funding shortfalls. Only 11% of the £2.3 billion requested by Jordan to support refugees has been received from donors around the world.

On the possibility of a free trade agreement with the UK, Dabbas said that Jordan has reached an association agreement with its ally and hopes to seal a pact in the future.

Syrian refugees in Jordan — in pictures

Updated: November 15, 2022, 5:43 PM

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