Mismatch - Why Refugees do not Fit the German Labor Market

The cliche' of the taxi-driving Iranian physician has already become a saying in the German language. Many migrants‘ qualifications do not meet the needs of the destination country’s labor market. Therefore, many are employed in underqualified jobs. Although the integration on the German job market runs comparatively smoothly (see here my latest article), many qualifications are wasted. Why is that the case?


 Most of the problems are well-known: lacking German language skills, psychological problems due to war and persecution and comparatively weak education systems in countries of origin make the job market difficult to enter. Other factors are more complicated, though.



The Human Capital


An underestimated problem is the lack of education. Because many refugee kids did not attend school due to war, universities remain too often a dream. However, lacking knowledge of algebra and geometrics make vocational trainings difficult as well. The crafts are okay. The school is the problem.


Knowledge about the labor market is also lower. Education opportunities, council and job perspectives are unknown for many refugees. Potentials perish. As social networks remain small and contain mostly people from the country of origin, contacts are missing. A lack of vitamin B.


The pressure to support family members outside of Germany makes things worse. Young people have to decide if the want to undergo an unpaid bachelor’s degree or a hardly paid vocational training. Getting an unqualified job pays actual money, but leads to underpaid employment under precarious conditions. This destroys perspectives.



And the bureaucracy again...


Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles make the job hunt difficult as well. Because of Germany’s federal structure, too many governmental departments fight over responsibilities. Even worse, laws are interpreted very differently among the federal states. In Bavaria obtaining work permits is way more complicated than in other areas.


Since 2016 incoming refugees are restricted to live in the city they were assigned to. Only in this city they have access to social services and transfer payments. While the aim is to protect overrun housing markets, it makes it almost impossible to find work outside of that city. Although this assignment can be cancelled, e.g. because of family reasons or because of a job offer, especially in economically weakly performing areas it is an obstacle. The match between a job and qualified staff is prevented.


Complex recognition procedures for qualifications and labor laws worsen the situation. Especially in medical professions qualified staff is needed. Physicians and nurses are rare in Germany. Migration can be a solution to this problem. However, especially in this branch qualifications on the German standard and specialized language skills need to be acquired. Elmar Kretschmer, project manager of Ärzte für die Zukunft, an advisory center for the recognition of foreign medical qualifications, points out: “The necessity to prove both, language and professional skills, is essential to keep a qualified standard. This does take time. Achieving an approbation takes a lot of patience, because it is very time-consuming. Germany’s new immigration law for the highly skilled can hardly change that. It does lower migration criteria, but does not change the professional standards. The Iranian doctor still has to undergo a recognition of his qualification. In the meantime, driving a taxi may help at least to finance living costs.



What to do?


Based on these different problems, the following steps should be taken to qualify especially Germany’s young refugee population:


1. Work condition during and after a vocational training need to be improved. The classical vocational training would become more competitive in comparison to studying. Moreover, the difference between doing a vocational training and a simple job to earn some money fast would shrink. As Kretschmer says: “The important branch of caregiving should receive a bigger recognition and appreciation. Nurses and caregivers do not receive the respect and gratitude they deserve.”


2. Professional standards must be lowered where possible. The German labor market is one of the highest regulated ones world-wide. This guarantees quality, but makes migrants’ access more difficult. If especially craft skills exist, unnecessary requirements must be reduced.


3. Vocational trainings must become more flexible. Refugees have attended less years of school and at lower quality. This must be taken into account while undergoing a vocational training. Vocational schools and recognition procedures need to be adapted according to the individual migrants’ needs.


4. A successful vocational training must be rewarded. Who decides to support his or her family less must receive something as an incentive. This incentive could be a family reunification with relatives that would not qualify for this under regular conditions, e.g. siblings.


5. Bureaucratic competences must be merged under one institution, e.g. the Arbeitsagenturen: One central agent for all questions about labor market and residence laws. This must be executed equally in all federal states.


6. The restriction to live in a certain area must be automatically withdrawn as soon as a vocational training or a recognition has been completed. It must not be a hurdle on the labor market.


Find out more about this and other topics in my latest book "Grenzenlos - Warum wir illegale Migration neu denken müssen".