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Refugees: 'They have the same access to the job market'

Half of the refugees who came to Germany from 2008 to 2012 have proper jobs. Another quarter is looking for work. Dirk Werner, a vocational training expert, explains the issues facing the millions who have arrived since.

Deutsche Welle: How does the integration of refugees into the German job market work?

Dirk Werner: Fifty-five percent are under the age of 25. That means our educational system plays an important role in qualifying them, from early education to vocational training, to ensure they are integrated successfully into the job market.

How many refugees had jobs that required them to pay social security contributions in 2015?

Unfortunately, we don't know much about those who came last year. We also don't know much about the qualifications of the refugees who are coming at the moment. This will improve in the future once data is collected automatically.

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There is a fairly recent study, conducted by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, that examined people who came to Germany between 2008 and 2012 and were granted refugee status. About half of them are currently working in jobs that require them to make social security payments. A quarter of them are looking for a job, or for professional training. Around 20 percent of them are at home and aren't looking for jobs.

How big are the bureaucratic hurdles?

There aren't any obstacles for those who already enjoy refugee status. They have the same access to the job market as the local population. But we do have problems with people granted subsidiary protection, so-called 'tolerated' refugees, who have been rejected as asylum seekers but are permitted to stay in Germany for one year after another. That of course makes it difficult for companies to include them in formal training.

Another obstacle is when people who are likely to be granted asylum are officially allowed to enter the job market after three months. This depends on the consent of the immigration offices, which in turn also require the consent of the federal employment agency. First it must be checked whether any locals or EU citizens would be suitable for the jobs in question. And its always possible that the decision is made against the refugee.

When does integration into the job market go smoothly?

It works well in the case of unaccompanied minors, because they are given a legal guardian who takes care of the whole process for them. Things get tricky when young adults have to do it all themselves.

Where are the main difficulties?

It's difficult for people who have no professional qualifications. Those who are younger than 25 can still benefit from the general education system, where we have compulsory schooling and preparatory courses for jobs and apprenticeships. But it's a bit more tricky for those who are older than 25 but have no kind of qualifications that are in demand in the job market.

What kind of feedback are you getting from companies already employing refugees?

In general, the feedback is fairly positive. The refugees are highly motivated, they say, and have a strong desire to be engaged and integrate themselves. A working knowledge of German remains the most important issue. Apart from conversational German, reading and writing skills are becoming increasingly important.

That's a whole new challenge. A part of vocational training is writing reports or reading operating manuals for machines. That requires an advanced knowledge of the language. On top of that, you have specific terminology for certain fields.