BEIRUT - - Jordan on Wednesday became the first Arab country to issue Syrian refugees with a new type of work permit that opens up the growing construction sector, the U.N. labor agency said.
The International Labor Organization said work permits for refugees used to be tied to specific employers, who applied on behalf of workers to fill specific positions. Now, refugees can apply themselves, then take available roles in the industry.
"The construction sector has a significant number of people working informally — without the necessary paperwork — which didn't give them the proper protection for payment and possible employer abuse," said Elias Jourdi, a shelter specialist for the Norwegian Refugee Council, an international aid agency.
Last year, the European Union relaxed trade rules with Jordan in return for its agreement to let thousands of Syrian refugees work in its companies and get work permits.
Beyond giving refugees protection from possible abuse, the permits could improve their standard of living, Jourdi said.
"They are able to work anywhere in the kingdom, and they will be able to access better jobs and therefore better income and provide better for their family," Jourdi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jordan.
More than 660,000 refugees are registered in Jordan, according to the latest U.N. figures.
However, the Jordanian government has said that there are more than a million Syrians in the country, which is home to the largest refugee camp in the world, Zaatari.
The camp's expansion helped to rejuvenate the economy of a neglected part of Jordan previously known for the smuggling of everything from sheep to arms to drugs.