Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Germany’s refugees are starting to pay off

By Leonid Bershidsky  /  Bloomberg Opinion

The tidal wave of asylum seekers that hit Europe in 2015 is often stereotyped as an invasion of poorly qualified migrants destined to be charity cases in the receiving countries, but research shows that this is not true. Germany, which welcomed the immigrants and almost immediately regretted it, is likely to end up profiting from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to let them in, especially if it keeps taking steps to ease these immigrants’ path to employment.

For a paper published earlier this year, Cevat Giray Aksoy from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Panu Poutvaara from the Leibniz Institute for Economic Research surveyed immigrants from the refugee crisis about their reasons for leaving their home countries.

Their sample was constructed to mirror the geographic and demographic patterns of migration across the Mediterranean Sea during the crisis, as recorded by the International Migration Organization.

They discovered that 77 percent of respondents — those from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Syria — fled war and persecution, while the rest, mostly from Algeria, Morocco and several African countries, came for economic reasons.

This in itself is not surprising: Most of the immigrants in 2015 to 2016 were fleeing armed conflicts.

However, Aksoy and Poutvaara made a more intriguing finding: Better-educated people are significantly more likely to try to escape war and persecution than their less-educated compatriots.

Those escaping conflict are, to a greater degree than economic migrants, a self-selected group of people with decent job qualifications. In poor North African countries, economic returns to education and skills are high enough for people to stick around rather than make a dangerous journey to Europe, but in Iraq or Somalia, it is the best-trained workers who suffer the biggest relative losses and thus have the greatest impetus to leave.

Moreover, these educated asylum seekers tend to choose destination countries with higher returns to skills — that is, those with relatively higher inequality: Germany, France and Italy over Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria. The less qualified tend to look for nations with quicker application processing and better social safety nets.

Obviously, European countries’ immigration policies played a role in determining the destinations, but Germany ended up, all in all, with a positively self-selected group of undocumented immigrants. These people, government statistics show, are anything but hopeless — Germany just needs to sort out how their qualifications correspond to its labor market needs.

That is the principal bottleneck. German is one of the tougher European languages to master, and the country’s rules complicate the recognition of diplomas and vocational training certificates issued outside the EU.

Last year, just 36,400 foreign professional degrees were recognized in Germany, even though that is 20 percent more than in 2017. That is a laughable number given Germany’s status as a major landing place for immigrants — it added 500,000 to its population last year.

However, despite this high barrier for entering the German labor market, the refugees are increasingly finding work. According to the German Federal Employment Agency, 35 percent of the refugees who arrived in 2015 were employed in October last year — up from 20 percent a year earlier.

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