What's it like for health care workers in Germany? What do I need to know before trying to get a job? And how good does my German need to be? These are the questions that keep popping up on Facebook, Instagram and especially an ever-expanding WhatsApp group.
Thaiza Maria Silva Farias can answer these questions from fellow Brazilians in her sleep. As a trained nurse from Rio de Janeiro, who came to Germany in October of 2016, she's a bit of a pioneer in that respect.
Soon after her arrival, she started working in the operating room at a clinic in Darmstadt. After seeing the lack of staff in German hospitals and its daily impact on patients, she decided last year to use her experience to start the Nursewelt, or Nurse World, recruitment agency that aims to entice care workers in Brazil to come to Germany.
"I can provide Brazilian applicants with professional help. Beyond that, I know very well who would be useful in German clinics," Silvia Farias told DW.
More and more people need caring for in Germany
Nursewelt seems to have the potential to be a success story because Silva Farias and her company help fill a gap in the market that gets bigger every year.
There were almost 2 million people in Germany who needed caring for in 1999, according to the Federal Statistical Office. By 2055, experts estimate that number will rise to 6.8 million.
At the same time, the number of people providing care has shrunk. Last year 53,300 people in Germany began training to be specialized nurses. That's 4,000 trainees fewer than in 2021 and represents a decline of 7%, the Federal Statistics Office said.
'Hand pick the work you want'
For each unemployed care worker in Germany, there are currently three open positions. Or, as Germany's Federal Employment Office put it, "There's a clear lack of nurses."
"You can pick what job you'd want to have as a nurse in Germany. You can look and decide where you would most like to work. When you're unemployed, it only takes one or two days until you've got another offer," Silva Farias said.
In Brazil, it's much more difficult to get a position, she added.
"The competition there is enormous. There are people that studied for five years and sometimes have master's or even doctoral degrees who still can't find jobs due to a lack of work," Silva Farias said.
Who wins and who loses?
According to German Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, Germany and Brazil seem to be a perfect match when it comes to nursing and care work. He will travel to Brazil with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in June.
The trip is part of a recruitment strategy that stretches to other countries, including Mexico and Indonesia.
"We'll be very sensitive in our approach, so we do not take workers from countries where they're needed," Heil told the daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
Heil added that the appeal to care workers could be mutually beneficial. "We benefit, the countries of origin benefit from us engaging in training there, and the people who come to us benefit by having a well-paying job and maybe even the chance to provide financial support to their family members at home."
A win-win situation for everyone? Patient advocates have doubts about filling the care-worker gap with nurses from other countries and that Germany's lack of nurses can be solved by hiring from foreign countries. In 2022, there were 656 foreign nurses hired in Germany, primarily from the Philippines, according to the Federal Employment Agency.
'A domestic German problem'
"At its core, the lack of nursing staff is a domestic German problem, and . the few hundred Brazilian nurses won't fix it," Foundation for Patient Rights head Eugen Brysch told the dpa news agency.
And what about countries like Brazil and Mexico? Are there really just winners, or is it the case that Germany is relying on brain drain in Latin America to take away qualified workers from countries that might eventually need them in the future?
Mexican surgeon Xavier Tello, a leading Latin American health care expert, took a pragmatic view of people's decision to look for employment abroad.
"This brain drain is completely normal in a globalized world," he told DW. "If I'm very well trained, and this is appreciated more in a foreign country than at home where working conditions are often bad and the wages are low, than it makes sense to take this step."Tello added, however, that few people in the region are aware of foreign efforts to recruit them.
"But when people are exposed to it, their approach is more like, 'Well, at least in foreign countries our nurses get the appreciation they don't get at home."
Silva Farias knows why nurses in Latin America decide to try their luck in Germany: The quality of life is better and they have more security; pay can be six times higher than at home while working for just one employer instead of for two or three hospitals in Brazil.
Still, Tello said he is not afraid countries like Mexico would soon struggle with a lack of nurses.
"Mexicans are very connected to their home," he said. "Emigrating to Germany and learning a new, difficult language would be quite the culture shock, so for them it's really the last option. Interestingly, people here do not regard it as a big career opportunity with a good salary."
Room for improvement on integration
Silvia Farias said the nurses sending her questions regarding a move to Europe as just one phase in their life and career plans rather than a professional endgame.
If Heil and Baerbock want to attract more workers from Latin America, Farias said there are changes they should make in Germany as well.
"Hospitals have to be better prepared for their new employees," she said. "Staff often has no patience when people don't speak German well. [Foreign nurses] should get a year to get a handle on the language. Germany needs to work on integrating foreign care workers."
This article was originally published in German.