The current refugee crisis is front page news around the world, no more so than in Germany where over 220,000 refugee applications were processed last year (and most accepted), a full third of Europe’s total and more than twice as many as the second-place country, Sweden. Current figures indicate that Germany continues to open its doors, ringing forth its welcome in cities like Cologne, and increasing its intake by 10% so far this year.
With recent changes in Germany that end its policy of banning refugees from seeking employment, and a growing awareness of the contribution that immigrants make to the economy, a new study by Dietrich Thränhardt for the Bertelsmann Stiftung on the labour market integration of refugees is timely: Die Arbeitsintegration von Flüchtlingen in Deutschland: Humanität, Effektivität, Selbstbestimmung [in German].
“They come in search of safety and work.”
The right to work is considered a fundamental right under international law, enabling individuals and their families to maintain livelihoods, prosper and participate in the community. For asylum seekers and refugees the right to work is particularly important as it contributes to their sense of dignity, self-respect and self-worth, bringing with it the independence and financial self-sufficiency essential to starting a new life. Employment is also a crucial facet of integration, actively engaging newcomers and “unleashing human potential, creativity, innovation and spirits.” Employment can also help refugees recover from traumatic experiences. And if work can sustain the qualifications, skills, motivation and energy of all migrants, including the displaced and homeless, then it also contributes to the well-being of all Germans.
Germans agree. While public opinion vacillates on whether the country should accept more or fewer refugees, there is a broad consensus about how best to proceed with the newly arrived. In a recent poll conducted by Bertelsmann Stiftung, 84 percent of all respondents believe the state should ensure that the wait time for refugee employment be reduced. So how can the labour market integration of refugees be improved?
How Can the Labour Market Integration of Refugees be Improved?
A critical first step, the study reports, is to recognize the negative impact of long asylum procedures on the employment and employability of refugees in Germany. Long wait times complicate refugee job search in a variety of ways. First, an anxiety-ridden waiting period undermines confidence and contradicts all evidence pointing to improved integration outcomes for those attached early to employment. Secondly, long and unclear processing times makes planning difficult for local and state authorities and challenges the ability of settlement agencies to work effectively with employers.
The report recommends reducing wait times immediately, noting this will require a commitment to new standards (aligned to refugee processing in countries like Sweden, for example), as well as the provision of additional resources and qualified staff by the state.
In addition to shortening the asylum wait time, the report recommends improved procedures and services for refugee processing and integration, including:
- Counseling and monitoring based on an assessment of language and training needs during the initial intake and orientation phase;
- Assessment and documentation of refugee educational levels, skills and work experience;
- Programs to actively connect the refugee client to employers/labour market. It is particularly worth noting in this context that all-important professional networks can be difficult to access and take time to develop, particularly while the client is in temporary housing.
Thränhardt also notes that only five German states offer refugees language training during the critical waiting period. He makes a convincing case for how opening up language and integration classes to refugees and asylum seekers early can help improve integration outcomes while increasing public confidence in Germany’s refugee and asylum system.
Let Pragmatics Drive Creative Solutions.
On the question of whether the state and local authorities should be spending integration resources on a populations not yet ‘approved’ by the system the authors are refreshingly clear: let pragmatics drive creative solutions.” Can we really afford to ignore the needs of refugee youth? Is it reasonable to limit access to language and employment training in an era when labour shortages will continue to drive migrants across Europe?
In the end, a fair, humane and efficient refugee and migration system will benefit everyone.
Read the full report [In German]:
Die Arbeitsintegration von Flüchtlingen in Deutschland: Humanität, Effektivität, Selbstbestimmung. Dr. Dietrich Thränhardt (Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2015).