Emigration and Unemployment in Jordan

Under tough economic conditions and high unemployment rate in Jordan, finding a suitable job continues to be a major concern for university graduates.  While pursuing a career abroad presents a chance at an accelerated career and a secure financial situation for some, others view it as “choosing the easy way out’” and abandoning one’s homeland.


For fresh graduate Ahmad staying to work in Jordan is the less likely choice. Although Ahmad says he loves Jordan and would love to continue living there, he explains that working abroad -especially in the Gulf- is very “lucrative” as it would help him reach a more financially stable situation times as fast.


With living expenses on the rise and under the pressure of finding a job, similar opinions are heard from young men and women all over Jordan who, like Ahmad, face this crossroad decision. After spending sometimes as much time looking for a job as they did earning their degrees a lot of graduates, especially males, begin investigating the chances of landing a job in the Gulf region, causing somewhat of a chronic brain drain.


The main reason for this is the high unemployment rate, reaching around 12% by the end of 2011 according to the Jordan Department of Statistic (DOS). The DOS survey results show that the unemployment rate is “high among the university degree holders (Bachelor degree and higher) by 15.5% compared to the other educational levels.”


//Unemployment rates (2000-2010), a noticeable drop from 15% in 2000 to 12% in 2011. Source: CIA World factbook


A major reason for this high rate of unemployment is the mismatch between the needs of the private sector and the skills of an estimated 50,000 annual university graduates, not to mention a reported half million “guest workers” in Jordan. Exacerbating the problem is that a majority of 200,000 students admitted to Jordanian universities annually choose academic specializations, which have highly saturated markets, such as medicine and engineering. This of course, is tied to the general culture that associates respect to these positions while it “looks down” on vocational jobs.


//Part of recent protests demanding the government to provides jobs and find  quick remedies to the phenomenon of unemployment.  Poster: "our dream is a job", "employment is a constitutional right for every citizen"


The frustration of the youth increases as the time of their unemployment is prolonged. They are engulfed into a vicious cycle as vacancies are increasingly requiring working experience. Working abroad offers fresh graduates an opportunity to work within the field of their studies, something that many compromise as a result of lack of vacancies.


Most importantly, the situation has bred a general feeling of injustice as sometimes it is clear that employment is not based on qualifications and merit but rather on personal connections, a concept well known to all as "Wasta".


With all these factors in mind it is no surprise that around 600,000 Jordanian, one tenth of the Jordanian population, currently reside and work in the gulf. But could this have a silver lining? Arguably yes. With around 2.5 billion Jordanian dinars transferred from Jordanian expats to their families in Jordan in 2011, the Jordanian economy is and has been dependant on these cash transfers from expatriates in the gulf region.


Therefore, recent talk about Jordan joining the Gulf Council Countries (GCC) was met with enthusiasm from various sectors of the society especially the youth, who hoped for increasing the chances of their employment there. Economists spoke about opportunities of increased investments in Jordan, large projects that would hire even more unemployed graduates. It was only until later that the GCC declined Jordan's request to join it, renouncing all expectations and hopes.


Under pressure to supply jobs for the youth and in an attempt to solve the situation, the government and civil society played a key role in encouraging and nurturing  concepts of entrepreneurship in the past few years. The golden rule being, if you cannot find a job, make one!


Consequently today there are many small to medium enterprises in Jordan and small businesses on the rise, many of which have quickly turned into money generating projects hiring more and more people. Noticeably the Internet and technology focused businesses are thriving, a quite understandable situation as capital requirements are minimal. Moreover, professional training programs for fresh graduates were initiated aiming at bridging the gap between the theoretical aspects students learn at the universities and the practical aspects of it, in turn making them more employable.


With no clear indications as to when the unemployment phenomenon is going to stop the stream of migration, it remains the government's sole responsibility to provide jobs for graduates by attracting foreign investments and overseeing the employment of Jordanians in it. However, as long as the problem persists many opinions still consider ‘leaving” as “the easy way out”, and consider a person who leaves his or her country to pursue a future elsewhere to be actively excluding himself from the development process of the country. For Salma a twenty one year old university student, leaving to explore career options is justified, as long as the youth are aware of the importance of returning to the country once they have acquired the experiences and skills that would help Jordan progress. Jokingly Salma says that emigration is something she is planning but only to be able to come back home and open a business that would provide jobs for her counterparts.


Yasmine ElGharaibeh