Amid a rising wave of attacks and anti-migrant demonstrations, authorities and businesses warn that the economy would collapse should foreign labour be eliminated.
In comments to news site Stockwatch, Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou said: “The local workforce cannot cover the large needs of the island’s labour market”.
“Based on 2022 data, a total of 110,000 third country nationals currently work legally on the island, contributing to the social security fund, compared to 340,000 Greek Cypriots, with another 10,000 Greek Cypriots registered unemployed,” Panayiotou said.
Some 100,000 workers are from EU countries, added Panayiotou, pointing out that more than one-third of the workforce are non-Cypriot workers.
“Therefore, should migrants leave, the workforce would suffer a severe deficit, even if all Greek Cypriots were employed,” the minister reasoned.
His comments come just days after far-right protestors attacked migrants and foreign-owned businesses in Limassol during an anti-migration march on Friday.
The size of the economy dictates the need for migrant workers, the labour minister argued, adding that strict regulation of the issue is the way to prevent economic problems and extremism.
Panayiotou stressed the need to utilise workers from third countries through legal procedures to eliminate the risk of Cyprus becoming an attractive destination for workers who present themselves as asylum seekers to enter the country illegally.
“Our policy is based on an integrated employment strategy, and already the inter-ministerial committee is moving in this direction by examining the aspects of immigration and meeting the demands of the Labour market”.
“A campaign targets illegal and undeclared work mainly by workers from third countries, so that through the strengthening of the institutional framework and the cooperation of the competent government agencies to bring about the best results”.
Migrant flows drop
Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou described the migration issue as complex, noting that some 55,000 asylum seekers are in Cyprus.
“Cyprus has six times the number of asylum seekers than any other country in Europe” and attributed the problem to the enormous pressures it faced in the previous two years.
Referring to government action to limit the problem, Constantinou said that in the last six months, migrant flows have decreased by 50%.
He stated that from March to April, 5,800 asylum seekers arrived, while during the same period last year, some 12,000 asylum seekers arrived.
The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) general secretary, Marios Tsiakkis, told Stockwatch that the issue was a tough puzzle to solve.
“You have a large number of migrants arriving, which Cyprus cannot accommodate,” said Tsiakkis, noting the CCCI wants to see authorities address labour shortages.
The Cyprus Employers and Industrialists (OEB) general manager, Michalis Antoniou, said, “Businesses are suffering from a severe labour shortage”.
“The practice of bringing in foreign workers to cover the market’s needs has been in place since 1992, without creating any problem neither in society nor in the labour market because it is applied under strict conditions”.
Antoniou denied that employers illegally hire foreigners, arguing that “businesses go through thorough procedures until they finally convince authorities the only way is to employ human resources from third countries”.