By Kostas Vlachopoulos
Entrepreneurship is vital for economic growth, job creation and the development of new skills in a country’s economic activity. If we look at the pool of potential entrepreneurs in a community, immigrants are an important part of it and have the potential to make a positive contribution to society. Entrepreneurship can also have a strong impact on the integration of immigrants themselves. Thus, the encouragement of migrant entrepreneurship is part of the wider context of the policies pursued by states with a view to integration.
It is indicative that in countries such as the USA, Canada, Britain and Australia, third-country nationals – by analogy – are more likely to be the entrepreneurs themselves than the locals. In Greece, the situation is different. It is clear from the available data that immigrants working as self-employed entrepreneurs make up only 6.5%, while locals occupy a much higher percentage (24%). The causes of this peculiarity focus mainly on the structural dysfunctions of the Greek economy and the public administration, but also on the lack of structured integration policies, which would include incentives for the development of entrepreneurship within vulnerable groups.
The ATHENA project, an international research on the entrepreneurship of migrant women, in which ELIAMEP participates, explored and analyzed very interesting primary and secondary data. According to the data, immigrant women who are engaged in business or intend to engage in entrepreneurship in Greece in the future, face significant challenges in terms of funding, as access to capital is limited. Obstacles to the achievement of their plans are also the extensive bureaucracy and their relations with the state, as well as the knowledge of the Greek language. Despite the obstacles they encountered, most of the migrant women who participated in the research referred to the strong motivations offered by their engagement with entrepreneurship. The main finding here is the balance between work and personal time offered by entrepreneurship, in contrast to the regime of multiple and simultaneous employment in which many of them are forced to work in order to make a living. They also highlighted the desire of immigrant women to use their unique skills in activities they enjoy (such as starting a business of their choice), as well as their strong need to connect with local communities.
The answer to the question, who benefits from the integration of immigrant women in the labor market through entrepreneurship has three dimensions: the first concerns women themselves, who have multiple benefits, both for their path to social inclusion and for their personal empowerment. The second dimension focuses on the benefits for host countries but also for countries of origin from migrant entrepreneurship. Modern literature shows that migrant entrepreneurs make a decisive contribution to the economies of both the country of origin and the host country, through job creation, increased productivity, market expansion, but also the contribution to public finances through the payment of taxes. and contributions. Finally, the societies of the countries in which immigrants are active in business get benefitted as well, mainly through cultural interaction.
The positive contribution of migrants to the economic and social development of countries, as well as their contribution as agents of cultural diversity, has been repeatedly emphasized in the context of the European Union. Given the demographic aging of the European continent, and even more so of Greece, the extension of life expectancy and the gradual shrinkage of the working age population, their contribution to the demographic and economic development of the Member States is highly recognized.
This debate is becoming even more interesting after the war in Ukraine and the millions of refugees who have fled the country. In Greece, to date, more than 25,000 refugees have arrived, and 9,695 residence and work permits have been issued. Most of them have kinship or friendship with several of their compatriots, who, for years, live permanently and are active professionally in our country. This initial contact creates the conditions for their faster and easier integration into society, in relation to the refugee flows of the past years.
In this context, the Greek state, and all stakeholders, must encourage and strengthen immigration entrepreneurship to emerge a positive agenda for immigration in Greece. The benefits, in addition to economic, can be a broader approach to social exclusion and discrimination that applies in any social environment.