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Ukrainians face poor job prospects in Germany

Caleb Larson
July 26, 2022

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Germany since the Russian invasion in February. They were promised access to housing, financial support and the job market. But things have not been that easy.

Berlin job fair for Ukrainian refugees
German companies have been reaching out to Ukrainian refugeesImage: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

An estimated 900,000 Ukrainians have traveled to Germany to escape the war in Ukraine since late February. And while they have found safety, their job prospects seem uncertain.

Under a European Union directive, refugees from Ukraine were granted protection status in the EU for up to three years — as well as access to health insurance and the labor market.

350,000 Ukrainians are currently registered as looking for employment in Germany, but many of them are struggling. The Munich-based economics research institute ifo, conducted a survey of almost 1,000 Ukrainian refugees in June and found that while 90% of respondents would like to find employment in Germany, only half of them have managed to do so.

Andrii Chekanov
IT worker Andrii Chekanov easily found work — but for his family members it has been a different storyImage: privat

Andrii Chekanov, a 34-year-old IT company product manager came to Germany before the war and experienced a relatively painless migration process. But his family has had a much more difficult time since they joined him in March.

Andrii's sister is struggling to find work in Germany and is "very frustrated." Although she speaks fluent English, she has not been able to find a job in her field of search engine optimization due to a lack of open positions for English speakers.

Germany is experiencing an acute shortage of skilled workers in multiple industries. Germany's Federal Labor Agency reported almost 900,000 job vacancies in Germany in June, especially in transport and logistics, sales, service, and healthcare.

When the ifo institute researchers surveyed 1,000 human resources managers in German companies from various industries, 83% said a lack of German language skills was the main barrier to hiring people.

Many Ukrainians are multilingual, but knowledge of the German language is not widespread. "Language skills are the most important challenge," ifo researcher Tetyana Panchenko told DW, adding that "it's not just about German skills, but also English."

Many Ukrainians from the eastern part of the country learned Russian rather than English. Insufficient language skills have led a third of the Ukrainians polled by the ifo Institute to be willing to take on work below their qualification level.

Why refugees are returning to Ukraine

No proof of qualifications

More than 85% of the ifo Institute's interviewees either had a university degree or vocational training. Still, to work in a regulated industry in Germany, for example, as a truck driver or pharmacist, applicants need to have their professional qualifications recognized. Without official recognition of their Ukrainian certificates, they are not permitted to work in Germany — another hurdle to integration.

Without qualifications or language skills, people can still find jobs in sectors such as elderly care. Germany's aging population has a special need for caregivers. The country's Association for Home Care and Nursing (VHBP) has sounded the alarm bells over the possible exploitation of untrained Ukrainian refugees. They might be willing to work for a fraction of the regular wages, the association's CEO, Daniel Schlör told public broadcaster ARD.

Long-term commitment required

Educational levels and language skills aside, one of the other significant obstacles to securing a job has been long-term commitment.

German HR managers express concern that refugees from Ukraine may soon want to return to their home country.

This is a problem for German firms which tend to avoid staff turnover, especially of qualified personnel, and are often not interested in temporary solutions, but prefer stable labor relations with a long-term perspective.

Olga Savitska, a 21-year-old translator and graphic artist came to Germany in February. She explained to DW that her job search here has been "difficult."

"I feel really frustrated and anxious," Olga explained. "It's really hard to build connections and find something suitable."

Compared to the job application process in Ukraine, "replies to emails and phone calls are really slow," in Germany, she says. As she hasn't managed to find full-time employment, Olga is now thinking about applying to universities instead.

Olga Savitska
Translator Olga Savitska has problems finding a job, despite her qualificationsImage: privat

Privileged refugees

Still, compared to previous waves of migration to Germany, Ukrainians benefit from a more streamlined administrative process in Germany, which allows them to find work, move around freely, find housing and apply for benefits.

It's a marked difference from the experience of refugees who came in 2015 from the Middle East.

"Ukrainians' permits and papers are prepared for them," Abdullah Saleh, who arrived in Germany in 2015, tells DW, explaining that he had to wait for 18 months for his registration and residency paperwork.

"Ukrainians are white, it's pretty much clear how they will be treated," Abdullah says. "I think is a huge difference between how Middle Easterners and Ukrainians are treated in Germany."

While the administrative process may be faster for Ukrainians now, Andrii says that it is still "a horribly long process” to get the documents necessary for work in Germany compared to other European countries. He explained that his parents have waited for three months and still do not have the paperwork they need to legally enter the job market.

Electrician at work
Germany is facing a dramatic shortage of skilled laborImage: Monika Skolimowska/dpa/picture alliance

Tide is turning

The number of Ukrainian refugees entering the EU has fallen back to pre-invasion levels, the EU's home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson said last week.

"The crossings between the EU and Ukraine, the numbers are pre-war, pre-COVID level, so we are back to like a normal number of people crossing."

Around half of the six million Ukrainian refugees who fled since February have already returned home, according to data from Frontex.

And school resuming on September 1 may be a deciding factor for many Ukrainian refugees currently in Germany to return home.

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

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