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With a shortage of care workers in Germany and a deserted job market, medical institutions are increasingly recruiting qualified staff from abroad.
The majority of foreign nurses are hired through recruitment agencies, which is a lucrative business. Clinics can pay up to 21,000 euros for the recruitment of just one nurse. But the market is completely unregulated.
"We wouldn’t manage without international care workers", says the head of nursing at a large hospital. In 2020 there were around 36,000 vacancies in the nursing sector. The number of foreign care workers has risen dramatically in recent years. Last year, around 208,000 of the nurses were non-German nationals, almost three times as many as in 2013. More than half of them come from non-EU countries such as Bosnia, Serbia, and the Philippines, but also from Latin America.
How does the business of recruiting foreign nurses work? Reporter Carolin Hentschel takes a look behind the scenes of the recruitment industry. The agencies don’t usually charge the nurses for their services, which include finding them a job contract with a German clinic, a German language course, assisting them in dealing with authorities, and looking for accommodation. But their recruitment contracts often include hidden costs and commitment clauses. If things don’t go as smoothly as planned, the care workers may end up having to shell out several thousand euros - a sum most cannot afford. Christiane Tenbensel from the "Support Fair Integration" project in Dortmund gives advice daily to care workers recruited for the German market. In many cases, the nurses are under great mental and physical strain and seek help with their debts.
Politicians are aware of the problems on the recruitment market, but they favor a voluntary system instead of creating binding legal regulations. Agencies which recruit in compliance with fair and ethical standards will soon be able to apply for a voluntary seal of quality. Is this the solution?