By Mayar Elsharkawy
According to a UN report released at the end of 2018, Germany has accepted around 1.06 million refugees; the highest number among all the EU member states.(A map showing the EU member state with the highest number of refugees, Germany has the highest record.)
In an interview with Mr. Sascha Langenbach, the official spokesman for the LAF (The State Office for Refugees in Berlin), he said “Many investments with millions of dollars have been made in order to integrate the refugees from different parts of the world into the German society, including the labor market.”
Since 2013, the number of refugees who received full time jobs in Germany has been on the substantial increase. This was a result of collaborative effort between the German government as well as the willingness of refugees to contribute to the German society. However, refugees face plenty of obstacles during the process of finding a job. The German government has managed to tackle some of them, but there are still many left undealt with.
(A line chart showing the increase in the number of refugees who got full-time jobs in Germany through the years.)
Obstacles that the German government tried to deal with
When asked about the hurdles she has faced while finding a job in the German market, Sara Abulquassem, an Afghani refugee, said “When I came to Germany, I wanted to get a job as soon as possible but it was impossible because of the language. So, I tried my best and took the B1 language course, then I started applying for a training job.”
The biggest obstacle that stands between refugees and integrating into the German labor market is the language. Many of the refugees, specially Syrian and Turkish ones, almost have no background about neither the German nor the English language. “What we have found out was that the majority of refugees accepted since 2014 were Turkish and Syrian, and both nationalities receive all their studies in their home countries in their language, unlike refugees from other places who studied in English, so they kind of had the basics of the language that might qualify them for work.” Said Mr. Langenbach.(A bar chart showing the number of refugees who got full employment by the country of origin; Syria has the lowest record because of the struggle with the language.)
Therefore, the German government has decided to offer refugees an integration course that they have to take, in order to find a job. “Once you are accepted as a refugee in Germany, you will have to take an integration course in order to learn the German language.” Mr. Langenbach added.
Furthermore, in order to make sure that refugees won’t miss any of their chances to learn German, and also to make it highly convenient for them to learn the language, the LAF decided to send the German tutors to the refugee houses it has built, for the language to be part of their daily life. In every refugee house built in Berlin, there are certain rooms dedicated to the German language courses where tutors meet with the refugees on regular bases.
Obstacles that refugees are still facing
According Mrs. Setareh Alirezaei, one of the social and job connectors for refugees that the LAF has appointed, says “A huge number of refugees who I am responsible for feel extremely traumatized because of what they have faced before arriving in Germany which makes them reluctant to do anything for the first one or even two years.”
The psychological trauma is one of the biggest barriers between refugees and the integration with the German society, including work. “We try as much as we can to make them feel better, but there are no systematic sessions arranged by the government to deal with this issue.” Said Mrs. Setareh
Dr. Matthias Mayer, a German expert in economics and the responsible for the integration programs in Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation, said: “Many refugees don’t find a good work opportunity because of the federal basement of the German economic system; the projects and work opportunities that have been created for refugees are only within certain geographic areas in Germany, but not the others.”
Although the LAF has built offices in the refugee houses whose main job is to connect between refugees and the work opportunities in different companies and projects available for them, as well as the educational opportunities that they might be interested in before looking for a job, refugees in many parts of Germany are still struggling with finding a suitable work opportunity. While refugees in Berlin have various work opportunities available for them, refugees in Hamburg or Munich for example may not have.
Another problem that refugees face while integrating into work is finding a job that matches with their original qualifications. In an interview with Mr. Jaschke Philipp, a Researcher in the Migration and International Labour Studies Research Department of the IAB, he said “According to a research we have conducted, around one third of refugees who arrived in Germany since 2013 and were integrated into the workforce actually work in jobs under their qualifications.”
According to a recent survey by Cevat Giray Aksoy from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Panu Poutvaara from the ifo Institute at the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, 77% of the refugees who responded fled their countries because of political conflicts, not poverty or low economic standards. Accordingly, many of the refugees have high education qualifications whether bachelor degree, masters or PhD, but they can’t work with them since the German government doesn’t acknowledge certificates from elsewhere other than the German institutions in these countries. This obliges them to work in a low labor skill job that only requires training programs that don’t take a long time and effort. Otherwise, they have to retake their high educational degree again in a German university, which takes a huge time to achieve.
Regarding the gender related hardships among refugees that stand between them and joining the workforce, Mr. Philipp said “It has been very noticeable that refugee men join the German market in larger number than women because of the family responsibilities that are bestowed on women.” The family obligations that women are committed to make it harder for them to leave her children in a foreign country and go to work. He also believes that the German government should provide refugee families with better child care to allow more women to work.
Finally, the process of asylum seeking blocks the way between some refugees and joining the German labor market. “Refugees with high protection rate tend to be approved as refugees and receive the residence permit in Germany faster than other refugees.” Mr. Philipp added. Those who come from countries where there are a bloody political conflict, like Syrian refugees, need faster protection than those who came to Germany fleeing poverty or low economic standards.
Thus, refugees with low protection rate integrate into the German labor market slower than the others as they have to wait for a year or more to get the residence permit, then take the integration course before start looking for a job. During this period of time, Mr. Philipp says that many of them may get depressed or frustrated which will have an effect on their willingness to work.
Why is it important to integrate the refugees into the German workforce and tackle the problems they have been facing?
A considerable number of German people started to question what Germany will gain in return for spending this huge budget on refugees. In an interview with Dr. Panu Poutvaara, the director of the Ifo Center for International Institutional Comparisons and Migration Research and also the managing editor of the CESifo Economic Studies, he said “Although the decision of accepting refugees is a purely humanitarian one, it can be very beneficial to the German economy on both the short run and the long run.”
Dr. Poutvaara stressed out that Germany will be facing a serious shortage in the workforce in the future due to the demographic collapse of the German population: the birth rate is very low and the population is expected to shrink. This will result in a fewer number of young people in the German labor market. “The more realistic solution is not to depend on migration from Eastern Europe to Germany but to engage people who are already in Germany to the workforce, including refugees.” Dr. Poutvaara added.
In order to bring this solution into the ground, the German government has to provide the refugees with extensive training programs in different parts of Germany and in all the fields of the labor market. “It has been clear that refugees are very eager to join training programs and get employed, so the German government has to take advantage of that and to offer them more opportunities, specially that the majority of refugees are young people and this was reflected on their eagerness to work.” Dr. Poutvaara said.(A line chart showing the number of refugees who joined training programs in Germany through the years.)
Finally, integrating refugees to the German market brings numerous benefits to both sides. As refugees will feel more secure and psychologically stable when they integrate with the German society which includes having a job and a source of income, Germany also, if managed to solve the obstacles that refugees are still facing, would get the return in the future in the form of maintaining the workforce and thus the German economy.