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Germany

Critics call for end to refugee employment ban

For the first year after arriving in Germany, asylum seekers are not allowed to work. An EU decision is to cut that time to six months. But that's unlikely to change the tough situation for asylum applicants in Germany.

Filling out forms, waiting for authorities and somehow killing time - for asylum seekers in Germany that's a day-to-day experience. Out of the around 130,000 asylum applicants, only 3.7 percent currently have a job, and only one third of those are working full time, according to the federal statistics office.

This is not because they don't want to work - rather, they are not allowed to. At least not in the first 12 months after their arrival in Germany. Then, authorities can - but aren't required to - grant them a work permit. But a new EU guideline is set to change this so that in future, asylum seekers across the EU would be permitted to work after only nine months. The decision has been approved by all 27 member states.

Deterring economic migrants

Asylum seeker

Most asylum seekers would love to work if only they could

The new guideline is a compromise. The EU Commission wanted to cut the time to six months, but Germany insisted on sticking with the 12-month rule. Berlin wants to prevent a potential misuse of the asylum right, and take away the "incentive to come purely for economic reasons...and apply for asylum," the German Interior Ministry told DW.

Critics have long condemned those rules. Asylum seekers have to depend on government aid if they are not allowed to work, and without a job they find it harder to integrate into German society. Added to that is the monotonous life and the feeling of futility and humiliation.

Bernd Mesovic of the NGO Pro Asyl says migrants rarely select their country of refuge for economic reasons. "The movements of migrants usually depend on where they can travel and what kind of relation they might have to a country," he said. Most migrants would therefore rather go to a country where they have friends or relatives, or where they speak the language.

The concern that asylum seekers would take jobs and compete with Germans for employment is unfounded, he adds. Many migrants don't have the qualifications in the first place, as often, their degree or professional training is not recognized in Germany.

"Anyway, the market would regulate itself," said Mesovic. Like many other critics of Germany's policy, he has called for a lifting of the ban on employment for asylum seekers. The new EU guideline merely has symbolic significance for him.

Bernd Mesovic

The concern that asylum seekers would compete with Germans for jobs is unfounded, says Mesovic

Employment remains difficult

In fact, little is likely to change in Germany. During an asylum seeker's first four years in the country, employment agencies will still be able to check whether any job could not first be filled by a German or EU citizen. "So most asylum applicants hardly have a chance to find a job," said Mesovic.

In addition, applicants are unable to look for a job just anywhere in the country, as they must remain at their registered place of residence. Mesovic says there are more informal hurdles when it comes to looking for a job, like language barriers or insufficient professional training. What would be important, he argues, would be to offer job training for the asylum seekers.

Germany's Interior Ministry also does not expect any concrete changes as a consequence of the new EU guideline, and it doesn't expect it to lead to an increase in asylum applicants, according to a spokesperson. The reason for that is the dissuasive effect of the long application process in Germany, which on average lasts for about six months.

The official decision on the EU guideline is expected this autumn. Then, the EU Parliament will still have to give the green light - it might take years until the ruling will actually be implemented.

Author: Christina Ruta / ai
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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