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Jobs for refugees

Srinivas MazumdaruOctober 16, 2015

In a bid to cope with the ongoing massive migrant influx to Germany, there have been growing calls for integrating asylum seekers into the country's job market. But experts say it is a long and arduous process.

Flüchtlinge Deutschland
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

At least 800,000 asylum seekers are expected to arrive in Germany this year alone, according to official estimates. The figure is higher than the number of refugees the entire European Union took last year, which stood at about 626,000.

The mass migration of people fleeing from conflict-ridden and poverty-stricken countries to Germany has evoked growing concerns about its impact on the country's finances. Each refugee costs the German government about 13,000 euros ($14,500) a year - including the cost of food, healthcare and housing, reported German newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung."

If the total number of asylum seekers for this year remains at 800,000, then that is expected to cost up to 10 billion euros. And the German government recently earmarked a budget of 6 billion euros to fund the care of migrants coming into Germany in 2016.

While there have already been calls for tax increases to finance the increased government spending for asylum seekers, Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration has stressed that there will not be any tax hikes.

Easing the burden

However, rising concerns over the increased costs of caring for migrants have led to growing calls for taking measures that help asylum seekers quickly find jobs in Germany.

In this way, many argue, the migrants would not strain the government's finances, but rather they could bolster the country's economy as taxpayers, workers and consumers.

Pointing at Germany's demographic trend of low birth rates and an ageing population, some experts also suggest that opening up the nation's labor market for asylum seekers makes economic sense.

German industry leaders, such as Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, have also showed willingness to provide refugees with training and job opportunities.

Still, it hasn't been easy for migrants to find jobs in Germany. With the expected rise in the number of people granted asylum, the government now estimates the number of people eligible for job-seeker benefits to increase by 240,000 to 460,000 in 2016.

Within four years, that figure could rise to 1 million extra people entitled to social benefits known as "Hartz IV" as they look for a job or are unable to work.

Skills mismatch

The inability of migrants to find employment might seem perplexing given German industry's complaints of a growing shortage of skilled labor.

According to a report published last year by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, a German think tank, the country faced a shortfall of some 117,300 skilled workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the gap was predicted to rise to nearly one million by 2020.

However, experts say many asylum seekers lack the qualifications required to fill the skilled labor shortage.

Talking to DW-TV about the integration of migrants into the job market in Sweden - another European country that has been severely affected by the crisis - Tino Sanandaji, an economist at the Stockholm School of Economics, said the unemployment rate among asylum seekers in the country was higher than among the local population.

The expert cited human capital as the reason behind this gap. Sanandaji noted that in a skill-intense, knowledge-based economy such as Sweden's, educational qualifications, work experience and language skills were crucial to find employment. But many migrants, for no fault of their own, lack them thus leading to a major gap in employment and income levels between the migrants and the Swedes, he said.

For instance, referring to the educational levels of asylum seekers from war-ravaged Syria, Sanandaji said only about 9-10 percent of Syrian refugees in Sweden claimed to have college degrees.

A long process

On the question of whether the current influx of asylum seekers to Germany would have any positive affect on the country's economy, Christian Dustmann, an economics professor and researcher on migration at University College London, said it was too early to make any predictions.

Refugees: Boon or bane?

"At the moment, we don't know very well whose asylum applications will be approved at the end. We also have very little information about the education levels of the migrants, particularly of those coming from Syria," he told DW.

"We therefore have to be very careful about making statements on their economic integration," he added.

Dustmann also cautioned that the process of finding jobs for the migrants would be a long one as the first steps of labor market integration tended to be slow. "It's not only about learning the language, but also about understanding the labor market and locating the right jobs, among other things," he said.