The Corner

Germany, Migrants and Jobs

Back at the beginning of the year I posted something on this Corner that looked at press coverage suggesting that Germany’s new migrants might not quite be as employable as Merkel and her corporate cheerleaders were trying so hard to suggest. This looked like a legitimate concern. After all, Germany is, like Sweden, a high-skills economy. And Sweden has famously not found it easy to find jobs for the influx of migrants who have arrived in the country over the last decade or so.

Take a look at this piece from September by Margaret Went in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Here’s an extract:

How are things working out in the most immigration-friendly country on the planet?

Not so well, says Tino Sanandaji. Mr. Sanandaji is himself an immigrant, a Kurdish-Swedish economist who was born in Iran and moved to Sweden when he was 10. He has a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago and specializes in immigration issues. This week I spoke with him by Skype.

“There has been a lack of integration among non-European refugees,” he told me. Forty-eight per cent of immigrants of working age don’t work, he said. Even after 15 years in Sweden, their employment rates reach only about 60 per cent. Sweden has the biggest employment gap in Europe between natives and non-natives.

You’ll often hear it said that immigration is essential if aging Europe’s welfare systems are to survive. That’s an unconvincing argument on many levels, not least the fact that it will be rather difficult for the unemployed to pay for the pensions of the retired.

But back to Germany. How’s it all going?

Well, here’s the (generally pro-immigration) Wall Street Journal from a week or so back:

Business groups and individual companies were among the most vocal supporters of the government’s liberal stance on migration six months ago, when hundreds of thousands of migrants began pouring into the country. Those same groups are now growing more pessimistic about the newcomers’ job prospects. . . . 

In practice, however, businesses that have sought to employ new arrivals say they struggle to find people with adequate qualifications. Many have no, or minimal, command of German. And since refugees’ residency rights are initially limited to three years, businesses have little incentive to invest in training them. Germany’s new minimum wage also makes unqualified workers pricier.

A number of German firms, including blue chips like Bayer AG, DZ Bank AG, Henkel AG and Volkswagen AG, have launched programs aimed at helping migrants find jobs. Most, however, are internships aimed at teaching basic skills. Real jobs are still rare.

. . . There are more than a million vacancies in Germany’s labor market, accord­ing to recent data from the Federal Employment Agency. Five out of six are for skilled workers. Yet only roughly a third of asylum seekers have completed professional training, according to the Institute for Employment Research. . . . 

“The problem with Germany is that you need a degree for everything,” said Saria Habbab, 28 years old, from Syria, who arrived in 2014 and is still looking for a job. “It wasn’t like that in Syria.” Mr. Habbab said he sent “easily 100” applications in recent months, but only a small number of companies responded. Before coming to Germany, he had worked as a video and sound editor, translator, cleaner and waiter in Syria, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. But he lacks a degree and doesn’t speak German.

In a poll of asylum seekers conducted in 2014 by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, 62% said they had never started professional training or college. One third said they had attended school for four years or less. Just over a third said they worked, mostly in low-level jobs such as cooks, waiters, warehouse workers or cleaners.

What could possibly go wrong?


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