The gradual opening of the german labour market to asylum seekers

SĂ©verine FERAUD

Senior Adviser at the Federation of German Employers’ syndicates (BDA)

Germany is expecting one million migrants by the end of 2015. German businesses are getting ready for this massive influx of people. But the legal framework must be amended to ensure asylum seekers really do have access to the job market.

Germany has a huge structural deficit in qualified personnel, which is worsened by weaknesses in its education system and by generational ageing. According to the German Ministry of Economy, the shortfall in qualified workers will break the two million mark in the next 15 years.
To ensure economic prosperity and long-term competitiveness, Germany must act quickly on two fronts. Firstly, it must take steps to unlock the full potential of its own human assets more quickly, and to get young people, women, disabled people, elderly people and existing immigrants into the job market. Secondly, it must optimise its strategy for attracting qualified workers from outside Germany and Europe.
Immigration reform onto the back-burner
In 2013, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, the number of immigrants entering Germany rose to a record high of 429,000 (the highest figure in 20 years). The majority were qualified workers from southern and eastern Europe, but several studies have shown that the number of immigrant workers from these areas should drop in the future due to population ageing. So intra-European mobility will not be enough to meet the needs of Germany’s labour market, bearing in mind that in 2013 only 3.3% of European citizens lived and worked in another Member State than their own. Hence the need to develop a broader national immigration policy for economic purposes. However, the urgent nature of the refugee crisis in Europe has forced the government to put immigration reform onto the back-burner, despite it being strategic for Germany’s future.
To “activate” the potential labour force already present in Germany, the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA) has long advocated amending the legislative framework to facilitate labour market access for asylum seekers who are very likely to stay or who are “tolerated” (geduldet). Work is an essential factor in integration. But it is also fundamentally important that the right to asylum is granted for humanitarian reasons, regardless of personal qualifications.
The federal government has made a number of improvements. However, there is still a lot to do and it must be done fast, given the massive influx of refugees into Germany. For example, asylum seekers who are likely to stay in the country and foreigners who are “tolerated” (geduldet) still struggle to obtain an apprenticeship. In fact, it is not always guaranteed that they will be able to stay in Germany until they have finished their apprenticeship (three years). If they are not automatically hired by the company in which they did their apprenticeship, their right of residence is not necessarily renewed to enable them to find a job. This situation is not very reassuring, either for the asylum seeker or for the company, which does not know from one year to the next whether the person it is training will be able to stay in Germany to complete their apprenticeship and to start working once their apprenticeship is over.
Nonetheless, German companies are reacting to the current influx of refugees with a great deal of flexibility and creativity. For example, they do not require applicants to provide proof of education, which are not always officially recognised anyway. They prefer to test people on the job by taking them on as trainees for example.
The federal government is expecting one million refugees by the end of 2015. How is the country going to cope? Hasn’t the time come to draw up a national immigration policy geared towards employment? Such a policy would meet both humanitarian and economic requirements, since Germany must integrate foreign workers into its labour market to safeguard its own future.

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