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HomeNewsRefugees overqualified and underpaid in Germany – DW – 08/12/2023

Refugees overqualified and underpaid in Germany – DW – 08/12/2023

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Obada Hijjo has not had an easy time since he arrived in Germany four years ago. Trained as a policeman in Turkey, the 30-year-old Palestinian initially worked for the police in the West Bank. But, when a case he was involved resulted in a threat to his life, he and his wife were forced to leave the country. Now he is stranded in Germany with “tolerated status” as a refugee , which means that he doesn’t have official residency but is allowed to stay.

Despite his police training and a degree in political science and public administration, also from Turkey, Hijjo works as a taxi driver in Berlin. Germany lacks workers in both his areas of expertise, but the only other job Hijjo has had in his four years in the country is as a package deliveryman.

Obada Hijjo at a cafe
A trained police officer with a degree in politics, Hijjo is working as a taxi driver in BerlinImage: Ben Knight/DW

He can’t work as a police officer, because he’s not a German citizen, but two months ago, after an extended battle with German bureaucracy, he finally managed to get his political science degree recognized. “The German authority confirmed that I have done a degree in this area in a foreign country,” he told DW. “Now I have an appointment at the job center at the end of the month. I’d like to be a public administration clerk.”

It should have only taken nine months to get this recognition confirmed, Hijjo said, “but I kept having to get something else from the university. They kept saying, ‘get this document, get that document, no, not that one, this one.’ They didn’t understand that I’m Palestinian, not Turkish. How am I supposed to go to Turkey? I only have a tolerated status, so I can’t leave Germany. I got a bit of a headache with the authorities.”

That experience is something Sanaa Abukalam can relate to. Having fled the war in Syria five years ago, she found herself in Dresden, eastern Germany, where she was soon confronted with everyday racism, including being berated by people on the streets. “A woman with a headscarf has so many problems,” she told DW. “Racism here is such a problem.”

Abukalam spent several years learning German, but she was unable to get her qualifications in alternative medicine recognized in Germany, and was grateful when she eventually found work in a shoe shop earlier this year. “It all took such a long time,” she said. Her dream, she said, is to work as a social worker helping people like her. 

Sanaa Abukalam wears sunglasses in a selfie
Sanaa Abukalam has faced racism on the streets, and can’t find a job in her chosen fieldImage: Privat

Unused potential

Such experiences are common among the hundreds of thousands of people who have sought asylum in Germany in the past few years. A recent study by the government-funded Institute for Employment Research (IAB), found that 41% of refugees who had been in Germany for six years said they were employed below the level they had before the arrived. The figure is even higher for Ukrainian refugees, more than half are working in jobs for which they’re overqualified, the IAB found.

It seems clear that there’s a particular mismatch between qualification and job among refugees, according to IAB researcher and co-author of the study Philipp Jaschke. “Part of it is down to the fact that a lot of jobs can be carried out in other countries without a formal job qualification,” he told DW. “But there are a lot of jobs which you need a three-year qualification for in Germany.”

Another reason is that refugees often don’t have the language skills when they arrive in a foreign country. “Compared to other groups of migrants, refugees have often fled very spontaneously, because they’ve fled war, forced conscription and persecution, and so on,” Jaschke said. “That means they’re often very ill-prepared for the country they’ve come to.”

How much immigration does Germany need?

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Successful integration …

Nevertheless, Herbert Brücker, the IAB’s head of research, was keen to underline that the overall employment rates among refugees are very positive. “We thought in 2015: If we reach an employment rate of 50% after five or six years, we will be very good. And we were at 54% in 2021, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. So we have exceeded expectations,” Brücker told DW.

And the longer refugees have been in Germany, the more they are employed: “Among people who have been here for seven or eight years, we have an employment rate of 62%. That’s pretty good. That’s only about ten, twelve percentage points less than in the German population.”

The IAB has regularly assessed the integration of immigrants into the German labor market since 2016, and the current study was based on the self-reported data of asylum-seekers who arrived in Germany between 2013 and 2019. The total sample was 10,111 adults who were interviewed at least once and up to six times, including 8,799 working-age refugees (ages 18 to 64) who have arrived since 2013.

… but lower earnings

Sixty-five percent of employed refugees who have been in Germany for six years worked full-time in 2021. The median gross monthly wage of full-time employed refugees increased from €1,660 ($1,820) in the first two years after arrival in Germany to €2,037 in the sixth year.

Refugees tend to be significantly younger than the average age of German employees, and those starting their working life earn less than the more experienced.

“Among 18-to-25-year-olds, the earnings of refugees are 75% of those of their colleagues of the same age in Germany. The gap is not that large, and it will also level out over time. But there is still a lot of room for improvement,” Brücker said.

Edited by: Rina Goldenberg

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

 

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