Right to work

Ease access to work for accompanying spouses, says petitioner

Zeineb Chouabi launched a petition on easing access to the labour market for accompanying spouses.  Photos: Zeineb Chouabi and Maison Moderne (archives)

Zeineb Chouabi launched a petition on easing access to the labour market for accompanying spouses.  Photos: Zeineb Chouabi and Maison Moderne (archives)

A petition on easing the access to the Luxembourg labour market for accompanying spouses of third-country citizens has attracted attention shortly after being validated by the parliament’s petitions committee. Delano spoke with its author, Zeineb Chouabi, about the hurdles that motivated her to make her voice heard.

Zeineb Chouabi arrived in Luxembourg in July 2021, “after a family reunification”. With ten years of work experience in the IT industry--in test and validation of financial institution software--Chouabi thought that she would find a job quickly. But, “after several interviews I realised that it was not going to be easy,” she told Delano. “As a family member resident, I'm not authorised to work and I have to ask for a work permit after finding an employer who accepts to do the whole procedure and wait for me.”

In her petition, Chouabi explains that many employers are not keen on hiring accompanying spouses due to a complicated and lengthy administrative procedure. After subscribing to the national employment agency Adem’s platform and undertaking various steps to improve her knowledge, skills and network, Chouabi realised that her situation “was similar to many other individuals in Luxembourg”--prompting her into action.  

Cordula Schnuer: Why was it important for you to publish this petition?

Zeineb Chouabi: The creation of this petition is a result of many real facts; the work permit procedure takes a long time to be delivered. It can take four to six months. Because of that, employers can prefer a candidate with a valid work permit, to avoid the complexity of the procedure. In some cases the position needs to be filled urgently and the employer is not in a position to wait for the candidate.

When you apply for a position you can see in the job offer or application platform that there is a combo box asking whether the candidate is coming from an EU country or not, whether they have a work permit or not…it seems like an eligibility test from the beginning of the selection.  

Also, for more basic jobs like housekeeper or security agent, there is absolutely no chance to be hired. Unfortunately for these positions, there is no extra talent needed to justify a work authorisation request to immigration authorities.

The foreign ministry has said it’s already working on the matter. What do you hope to achieve with the petition?

Yes, they are working on this subject, to the best of my knowledge since the last quarter of 2021. Things are taking a long time; we have no updates nor an approximate time of when this will actually happen. What we hope is for this petition is to be heard, to show that many people are concerned, to put pressure and also to express that we need a solution.

Maybe the foreign ministry will work to reduce the time it takes for this procedure to be completed. However, what we are waiting for, what will benefit us, recruiters and the country, is to give accompanying spouses of third country citizens the right to work as soon as we obtain the first residence permit.

Employers everywhere are complaining of a lack of talent. Do you think this could help relieve some of the worker shortage?

Absolutely. With the important number of expats arriving to Luxembourg, which include a significant number of people who joined their partners, this will certainly help to relieve some of the worker shortage. These people can be a wife, a husband and even parents, who are able, ready and willing to work.

I would also like to highlight an indirect effect of this situation: when a company selects a foreign candidate, their partner’s risk of unemployment may create a certain unwillingness to accept the job offer and might even push them not to come to Luxembourg or to leave after finding how difficult it is for their loved one to find a job.

It’s not only a question of accessing the job market but also of speaking the languages and having the skills in demand. What other measures do you think could be taken to better integrate foreigners in the job market?

What is incredible in Luxembourg and really unique, is that the whole system is oriented to make foreigners' integration a success. Everything is accessible and sometimes it's free; Adem [jobs bureau], INL [the national institute for languages], the trades chamber, etc. So, technically, everyone can have a place in the labour market, we just have to identify what we want to do and work towards enhancing the missing skills.

This seems to be perfect so far, but by the end we will return to the same issue, where a recruiter prefers a candidate with a valid work permit.  

What would you say to people who aren’t immediately concerned by these restrictions? Why should they sign?

With signing this petition we can see advantages on many levels. On a national level, people who today benefit from health insurance, free education and many other services can start working and contribute to the country's development. For employers, it makes sense to use the labour force already settled in the country instead of looking for external resources. For citizens, this is an opportunity to play an active part in a life changing situation for family members that are being excluded from the workforce, unable to contribute to their households or continue their careers.

Petition 2479 on 9 February had gathered 1,369 signatures out of the 4,500 minimum it needs to collect to be eligible for a debate in the Chamber of Deputies. 

Tracy Heindrichs contributed to this interview