The new integration law of August 2016 allows asylum seekers from countries with "prospects of remaining long-term" (e.g. Syria or Iraq) to take a language course before their asylum application has even been approved. That was not the case before. But there are still too few courses. Data from an OECD study on the integration of refugees into the job market, published in March 2017, shows that in 2016, 240,000 refugees in Germany were without a place on a language course. This is something that still needs to be remedied.

The difficulties of finding a job

It′s something that has been repeated time and again: Germany needs both skilled foreign workers and more apprentices. This may be true and most refugees want to work. But in practice, it′s not that easy. Integration is a marathon, not a sprint. At the moment the new arrivals′ qualifications don′t always match what companies are looking for. At first, many of them will only be able to take on menial jobs. And it will be a while before the younger generation finishes their education.

No one knows how many of the refugees who arrived in 2015 and 2016 have now found a job. Many may still be doing language and training courses and therefore don′t appear in the unemployment statistics. In Munich, the IFO Institute surveyed 400 refugees from countries with "prospects of staying long-term". After six months of looking for jobs, around 20 percent had found one; the study provides no information on what kind of work they were doing.

"From previous integration movements we know that after around five years 50 percent of migrants are integrated in the job market and after ten to 15 years, up to 80 percent of them have found jobs," says Petra Bendel, a professor of political science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. 

At the moment there are still a lot of obstacles, the language barrier being the biggest hurdle. Annas Malhis, 48, was an entrepreneur in Aleppo: he and his brother ran a company with twelve employees, stitching decorations onto textiles.

"There is no demand for what I can do in Germany," Annas says sadly. He is willing to take on any kind of work, he tells me. He would like to work with plants most of all. But right now he is still struggling with the language. He failed the test for Level B1, the third level on a scale of six, by just one point. "I struggle with grammar and..." – he searches for the right word and looks to his daughters, who help him out – "listening comprehension."

He has one more try left. Once he has hopefully passed the exam, he wants to look for work – any work. At the moment the family is living on benefits. "It is difficult for me to get on here," he confesses. "I am here because of my daughters." The girls′ parents are doing everything they can for their daughters′ education.

The public debate usually centres on cultural and religious aspects of immigration. But refugees finding a satisfying job, talking to their neighbours and finding something like a home is much more crucial to integration.

Claudia Mende

© 2017

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

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