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Jobs for refugees

Dagmar Breitenbach
November 29, 2016

How easy is it for refugees to find jobs in Germany? The employment agency of Germany's most populous state is sounding the alarm over its inability to provide tens of thousands of refugees with work.

two men with hard hats, one a young refugee
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

An estimated 50,000 asylum seekers in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) who've completed the prerequisite asylum process and integration courses are now at the point where they may apply for jobs, the state's employment agency says.

Experts agree that "labor market participation is the single most important step" to a successful integration into host societies, according to a March 2016 study by the European Parliament entitled "Labor Market Integration of Refugees."

At the same time, the study realizes this is a "major challenge" for the host countries, as many refugees "will probably stay for a long time."

"There will be major challenges in the coming years with regard to labor market integration of refugees," Mareike Bünning, director of studies at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), agrees.

Integration Through Jobs

In the face of Germany's low birthrate and rapidly aging population, one would think that the influx of new labor would be beneficial,

but in NRW, however, there is little demand for these would-be-employees in Germany's most populous state.

Skills assessment

Few firms are interested in employing these workers, often complaining that their resident permit status is still not clear or the work permit regulations are too complicated, Christiane Schönefeld, the head of the NRW employment agency told the local WDR broadcaster.

It seems many refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries lack the skills and qualifications German companies need, even if they have completed vocational training or a university degree in their native countries.

hands and a wrench
There is a need for skilled manual labor Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Hoppe

But this is the moment in time when integrating refugees into the labor market either succeeds or fails, Schönefeld argues.

Months ago, NRW set up 47 specific "integration point" centers where refugees can find help with integration classes, guidance counseling, recognition of foreign credentials or finding a kindergarten spot. Trained staff who speak several languages, often including Arabic and Farsi, also help refugees find their way into the German labor market.

But about one out of three refugees has no formal school diploma, the NRW employment agency told DW in an email, adding that young people with little or no schooling rarely have a chance of finding a trainee position. It's important these refugees finish school, the agency says.

Language obstacles

In general, asylum seekers to Europe are mainly young and male, the study commissioned earlier this year by the European Parliament finds: 74 percent of first-time asylum applicants are male and 82 percent are younger than 35.

The same is true for refugees in North Rhine-Westphalia, the employment agency says. Seventy percent of the refugees in the state's October unemployment statistics are male, and poorly educated - and the only kind of job they seek is untrained labor. More than 60 percent are younger than 35.

Culture isn't the major integration barrier at all, according to a study by the Research Institute of the Federal Employment Agency (IAB), which suggests that refugees who have fled to Germany by and large share their host country's values.

Slow process

The main problem in tackling the German labor market is the language. German language skills, IAB migration expert Herbert Brücker told DW, are a main prerequisite for an education and integrating into the job market in this country.

But Brücker is confident many refugees will find their way into the German workplace. One out of three has attended integration courses, and two out of three have participated in language classes.

Nationwide, the migration expert estimates that between 460,000 and 480,000 refugees won't be ready to enter the German job market until the end of 2017 and others even later. It's a slow process, he says, adding that five years from now, only about half are expected to have trickled into the job market.