Refugees sitting in a room. Two of them are talking with each other, one of the looks into the camera.

Effective measures for integrating refugees into the workforce must be developed further

Germany faces the challenge of integrating hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country's workforce. As a new study shows, the existing measures designed to achieve that goal must be further developed as part of a coordinated overall process. The additional investment would be worth it – for newcomers and natives alike.



One of the major events of 2015 was the historic influx of migrants to Europe. Last year, 1.1 million refugees were officially registered in Germany, with more continuing to arrive in 2016. Approximately half will be given long-term residence permits. If the country’s refugee policy is to succeed, these newcomers must become part of the workforce and society in general. Their economic and social integration is also essential for maintaining Germany's social cohesion.

A new study by Jutta Aumüller of DESI, the Berlin-based institute for democratic development and social integration, examines existing programs for integrating refugees into the job market. It also makes recommendations for developing the programs further. Currently, the programs are designed to get refugees working as quickly as possible. For the programs to succeed, the relevant institutions and organizations must be able to respond appropriately to the newcomers' needs, and efficient, networked structures must be established that include refugees in regular vocational training and job placement programs.

Creating a coordinated overall process

The study also demonstrates how, ideally, measures for integrating refugees into the labor market can be expanded and made part of a coordinated overall process. This process would include early access to language training, an evaluation of refugees' qualifications and skills, career guidance, programs for preparing refugees to enter a vocational training program or occupation, and, finally, commencement of an apprenticeship or gainful employment.

One area of particular concern is the recognition of competencies and skills, since Germany currently lacks a nationally valid evaluation procedure. What is required here is a standard assessment procedure that identifies and certifies occupational skills that have been acquired informally or nonformally in the refugee’s native country. The author of the study also calls for the further development of preliminary qualifications, which make it possible to attain a full qualification step by step.

Another area that must be addressed is the legal framework, since different laws apply to refugees depending on how far along they are in the asylum process. For example, the Federal Employment Agency is responsible for refugees whose applications for asylum are still pending. Once an application has been approved, however, another section of the legal code applies and the refugee in question must begin reporting to the local job center. In some cases, they might even have to leave some of the government-funded programs they have already begun. It is also difficult to have data transferred from the Federal Employment Agency to the job centers. What is therefore needed is a centralized point of contact that can facilitate transitions between the various parts of the system.

A "social job market" for refugees is needed

The study also addresses employment conditions for refugees and maintains that creating additional exceptions to Germany's minimum-wage law would not be productive. A "social job market" should be created instead, in order to prevent refugees from having to work illegally or take on poorly paid or temporary work, or from becoming one of the long-term unemployed. According to the study, employment that provides low-threshold access to the job market should be combined with work-related language training, making it possible for refugees to enter the regular workforce in the medium term.

Refugees in Germany

Most of the measures meant to help asylum-seekers are reserved for people from countries that have been accorded special status (Eritrea, Iraq, Iran and Syria). Yet refugees from other countries will also be remaining in Germany for an extended period of time. The author of the study therefore calls for refugees who already applied for asylum nine months ago to be included in legally mandated "integration courses" and in programs designed to make it easier for newcomers to enter the workforce. That would avoid having to expend considerably more effort later integrating a large number of refugees into the job market, namely those who now face a lengthy wait for permission to remain in the country.

Finally, more must be done to increase the effectiveness of the programs that have already been launched. Currently their impact is often limited, reaching only a few thousand refugees at best. If more refugees are to benefit, a set budget with clearly defined funding levels is needed.

Please find the complete study on the right side (only in German).