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Impact case study

Entrepreneurship in the Informal Economy

School: School of Social Sciences


The role of migrants in society and their impact on the economy is a central issue ahead of major political events facing the UK in the coming years, such as BREXIT and the revision of migration policies within the EU.The ‘Entrepreneurship in the Informal Economy’ impact case study is a response to these developments and is linked to the International Security and Sustainability (ISS) research group.

This project began in the summer of 2016 with seven weeks of data collection at the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum where over 200 individuals (all migrants with either current of past refugee or asylum seeker status) took part in focus groups, individual interviews and surveys to gather data on their legal and professional experiences in the county since their arrival. This was followed by the analysis of the data collected, its write-up in the form of one journal article and a series of short reports, and the presentation of the project at several research conferences in the UK.

The intention is to inform policy relating to asylum seekers’ and refugees’ right-to-work and its implementation in Nottinghamshire throughout the city and county councils. This is a newly established project and collaborations are being developed with stakeholders at the Nottingham City and the Nottinghamshire County councils.

The project is led by Dr Angelo Bisignano (NTU Department of Management) and Dr Imad El-Anis (NTU Department of Politics and International Relations).

Research background

Recent research has focused on the economic impact of foreign labour to the local and national economy (Dustmann and Frattini, 2014). Migrants appear to be particularly active in entrepreneurial activities, despite difficulties in accessing resources such as financing and training (Smallbone et al. 2003). However, some migrant categories such as asylum seekers are legally prevented from engaging in entrepreneurship (Ram et al. 2007).

Nevertheless, institutional limitations do not limit migrants from refining their enterprising skills (Waldinger 1986). Migrants are in fact able to mobilize their social ties within tightknit migrant communities to access resources and competences facilitating entrepreneurial activities (Ram and Jones, 2008). Structural limitations, however, mean that such entrepreneurial activity operates within shadow economies with their own distinctive rules and regulations (Ram et al. al., 2007).

This project explores the development of entrepreneurial skillsets and of entrepreneurial activities in migrants operating mainly within the informal economy in Nottinghamshire. We address two main questions;

  • The first is how do marginalised individuals (such as refugees and asylum seekers) start and promote enterprising activities in the informal economy? In capturing their activities, generative mechanisms, resource access strategies, and operating logics this project will expand the understanding of the socio-economical contribution of migrant entrepreneurial activities.
  • The project also explores the role of the wider community in facilitating the development of entrepreneurial skills. Migrants bring with them an array of skills. However, they also access a variety of formal and informal institutions in order to develop and refine their enterprising skills.
  • The second question is therefore: how do migrants access enterprising skills development within the context of the informal economy?


This is a new project and evidence of impact is being collated.  However, the research has been completed (all data has been collected, analysed and a paper written). The next step is to operationalise the following:

  1. Partnership with Nottingham City Council
  2. Partnership with Nottinghamshire County Council
  3. White Paper submitted to inform policy on the transition of informal enterprises into the formal economy
  4. Creation of a workshop with local NGOs (specifically, the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum) to support the enterprising skills of marginalised migrants
  5. Establishment of an inter-institutional forum, where a range of research findings are used to generate local impact.

Related staff


  • Entrepreneurship in the Informal Economy: the role of Migrant Communities in Nottinghamshire’, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour Research (forthcoming 2018).