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Among the many challenges for young migrants without family, the transition to adulthood is a major one as it entails complex changes. For many young migrants, reaching 18 is associated with a loss of privileges because access to public services, such as housing and state guardianship, may may no longer be guaranteed or depend on adult services.

As noted in a OECD study published in 2016, some countries continue to provide care beyond 18 up to 21, 24 or 26 depending on the country to former unaccompanied children who are in school, university or employment, or who are considered particularly vulnerable.

Education and access to the labour market: challenges and opportunities for young migrants

Asylum-seeking unaccompanied children are entitled to access to primary and secondary education under EU law. As highlighted in a joint report by the Council of Europe and the UN Refugee Agency, unfortunately, many young migrants arrive in their host countries just before or after the age limit for compulsory schooling -usually at the age of 16.

As further explained in the OECD study, a lack of basic qualifications and frequently unstable, low-skilled jobs put young migrants at a particular risk of eventually finding themselves not in employment, education or training.

Young migrants have fewer chances to access higher education. Recent research from the European Student Union identified the most common constraints as lack of information, a scarcity of advice and individual guidance, insufficient recognition of qualifications -particularly without documents- as well as inadequate language support and financing.

Nevertheless, there are opportunities available. Adult education and vocational training are considered a potential solution that could guarantee effective access to the labour market. In addition, targeted programmes that combine language learning and civic orientation have proven to be the most successful. When these programmes also include the presence of a caseworker who accompanies young migrants throughout the whole process of education, training and internships, there are higher chances of successfully integrating into the job market and into society.

Support programmes for young migrants: examples from Belgium and Sweden

During ESN Seminar on Migrant Children and Young People: social inclusion and transition to adulthood, scheduled to take place on 23-24 October in Stockholm, examples of support programmes for young migrants turning 18 will be presented, such as ‘CURANT’ in Belgium and ‘Folk High School Track’ in Sweden.

CURANT is a cohousing project for unaccompanied young refugees living with Flemish ‘buddies’ for at least one year in Antwerp. CURANT also provides integrated, individually tailored guidance and counselling focused on activation, education, independent living, language, leisure, employment and social integration. Between 75 and 135 young adult refugees will benefit from CURANT between 2016 and 2019.

The FOLK HIGH SCHOOL TRACK project has provided the opportunity for unaccompanied migrant young people aged 18 to 21 years old to live and study at Folk High Schools (FHS) all over Sweden. In 2017 around 70 young unaccompanied migrants attended 15 different FHS projects where they had the opportunity to improve their Swedish language skills, increase their social networks, get a summer job and participate in activities both inside and outside the school.


Despite the many challenges that young migrants face when they reach 18, more opportunities are developing in different countries to guarantee their successful integration and transition to adulthood. Social services have a key role to play in providing guidance and access to services. Access to education, employment, housing, healthcare and psychological support remain at the core of any policy aiming to successfully foster the social inclusion of young migrants. This means that efforts to remove remaining obstacles to accessing services should continue.