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Simply tolerated

October 31, 2010

Around 88,000 people live in Germany without a residency permit. Their status here is in limbo, as they are stuck between residency and deportation. A program in Essen is helping some non-residents improve their lot.

A man works in a factory
A conditional residency permit can make it hard to find workImage: Jugendhilfe Essen

At the Residency Through Work office in Essen, Aref Ekinci has more bad news for his advisor. The foreigners' registration office has denied him a residency permit once again.

Instead, he's got a new Duldung, or a conditional residency permit. The name literally means "toleration," and is a temporary measure that more or less states that while a person's presence is tolerated, there has been no final decision on permanent residency or deportation.

Ekinci has had such a permit for the past five years.

A man works in a factory
The program pairs immigrants to work optionsImage: Jugendhilfe Essen

The story of Aref Ekinci is typical of the 88,000 people whose residency in Germany is not officially recognized. Ekinci, the son of a Turkish guest worker, was born and raised in Germany. He went to school here and speaks perfect German. In the 1990s, Ekinci moved back to Turkey and worked in the tourism industry.

But when he wanted to return to his family in Essen five years ago, Ekinci was not granted a residence permit from the foreign office.

"Of course, the foreigners' registration office always says 'we'll see what we can do,'" Ekinci said. "But you come back in three months and they're still looking."

Ekinci is slowly getting the feeling that it could take quite a while.

"You're here," he said, "but somehow you actually aren't here in Germany."

A better chance

It's for people like Ekinci, who have no secure status as a resident and face the possibility of deportation every day, that the Residency Through Work program was created.

The program was initiated in February, 2009 by the youth welfare service and the church-run social welfare program in Essen for youths and adults with a conditional residency permit who still have a chance at permanent residency in Germany.

A student at her internship
Internships often lead to jobsImage: Jugendhilfe Essen

A conditional permit has implications for work and everyday life. It doesn't necessarily make a good impression on an employer, who may worry that the worker could be suddenly deported. And, a conditional permit limits a person's ability to move. In the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Ekinci isn't allowed to leave the state or travel.

"You're at an overall disadvantage," Ekinci said.

People from many countries take part in the program, including Serbia, Bosnia, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some have been living in Germany for 20 or 25 years, and others were even born here.

"Our goal is to increase the chances of permanent residency through work and education," said Ina Wolbeck, head of the project.

Defeating the ‘Duldung’

Thirty participants take part in the program at the same time. Twice a week they take classes at aimed at improving their German as a working language, as well as math and politics. They also work on data processing. In the remaining three days of the week, they work at an internship or on a trial basis in a company of their choice.

A woman writes on a whiteboard
German lessons are part of the programImage: Jugendhilfe Essen

Taking part in the program makes that possible. When employers know that the workers are there with the support of the program, then the fact that they are in Germany with a conditional permit is not as much of a deterrent. And, when participants are given the chance to show what they are capable of, an apprenticeship or a job isn't out of the question.

The project leaders work closely with the foreigners' registration office in Essen. It must approve every participant, and every two months, representatives from the office meet with Residency Through Work team members and review the progress of each participant in the program.

"We try to see what we can do in each individual case to get the residency granted," said Wolbeck.

Not about the numbers

The program doesn't have a fixed time frame; participants stop coming when they find an apprenticeship or a job. So far, of 67 participants who have done the program, a third were able to find a job or an apprenticeship.

But the numbers aren't the most important part of the program, says Ekinci. Since starting the program, he's found a part-time job and is hoping for a full-time position with a corporate security department.

"If I had just been sitting at home, I don't think I would have had the confidence to send out the application," he said.

But now, thanks to the Residency Through Work program, he's back on the job market.

"It gave me my self-confidence back," he said.

Author: Nadia Baeva (mz)
Editor: Chuck Penfold