Germany’s Difficulties with Refugee Integration

Zubeyde Oysul and Mary Sulavik

The millions of refugees entering Europe during recent years have found the warmest reception in Germany, where 1 in 8 residents is of foreign national origin. Germany has made significant strides towards effectively and permanently relocating and integrating refugees into the country. However, there are still policy opportunities to ensure that refugees are able to integrate further and feel assured of guaranteed futures in the country, with the possibility of being joined by their families. Many refugees are having trouble making the educational and legal leaps necessary to become German citizens. Conditions for integration, including long waiting periods for citizenship, are unnecessarily turbulent and stressful; less than 50 percent of migrants pass their language and integration classes. With the German spending budget for refugees predicted to reach 78 billion euros through 2022, it is crucial to ensure that methods of migrant integration are practical, successful, and cost effective.

The aspect of integration most significant to migrants and their futures is their economic integration into the country. By gaining employment, migrants will be able to fully immerse themselves within the country, learning the language and interacting with the locals. Employment will also allow them to provide for their futures, thereby decreasing their dependence on aid from the German government. In this regard, Germany’s vocational training schools have made great strides in providing refugees with appropriate vocational skills, language education and integration courses to join the German workforce. Luckily for the refugees, Germany currently has a significant shortage of skilled labor, allowing refugees with appropriate training to fill these gaps in the market. A report from the state-funded Institute for Employment Research (IAB) found that half the refugee population of 2015 would be working by 2020, clearly indicating that the efforts of the German vocational schools, along with tremendous efforts on the part of civil and volunteer organizations, are proving useful to migrant integration into the German workforce.

Despite these conditions, unemployment continues to be the reality for many refugees. Even migrants who have the appropriate skills for employment often cannot obtain a job in Germany due to a lack of language skills that creates communication problems between the migrants and their future employers. Migrants who do not possess the skills learned from vocational training, or who may have skills more specialized than those learned in the schools, are also having difficulty finding employment. In Germany, training occurs over a prolonged period of time, with extensive language requirements, thereby limiting vital short-term employment options.

The apprehension of many migrants about their futures in the country prevents them from preparing for long-term employment opportunities in the country. Germany is currently divided on whether migrants with non-credible claims for asylum should be allowed to remain in the country. Asylum-seekers must appeal to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) to receive their status in the country, at which point they might receive a negative ruling. To contest the negative ruling, migrants must appeal to one of Germany’s 52 law courts. Depending on where a refugee is situated within the country, they may face a high risk of deportation if their claims fail to hold up in court.  If the appeal is denied, the immigration agencies local to the law courts are required to deport the migrant. Although the process seems multifold, many refugees will find the odds stacked against them following an initial rejection from BAMF, as the law courts tend to favor the Federal Office over the migrants. In some of these courts, discrimination against refugees leads to illegitimate court rulings and unfair administrative decisions, thereby evicting numerous refugees from Germany who may very well have a legitimate claim to asylum. The difficulty and uncertainty of the asylum process proves particularly troubling for the German economy: since refugees without asylum cannot legally hold a job, many refugees will face unemployment indefinitely, deepening the strain on the German migrant budget.

Germany has and will continue to face logistical issues in placing all of its refugees within communities, educating them, and integrating them into the workforce. Social integration might take generations, but economic integration does not have to. If Germany were to minimize the requirements needed to join the workforce, as well as reform the asylum-seeking system into a more just and unified one across the German states, refugees would have a much easier time succeeding in the future. Their success will allow the German economy to better allocate its funds for migrants towards more needy recipients, rather than the general refugee population.  With a more efficient vocational training model, especially in terms of language education, and a national standard for asylum requirements, Germany can integrate its refugees into the economy faster.