Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Germany’s refugees are starting to pay off

By Leonid Bershidsky  /  Bloomberg Opinion

According to the German labor union DGB, 81 percent of college-educated refugees and 45 percent of those with a vocational qualification work below their skill level, and the wages they receive are significantly lower than the national average. Still, it is a testament to the refugees’ tenacity that, just three years after arriving, and likely without any knowledge of German, more than a third of them are gainfully employed.

Although Merkel’s open-door policy was highly unpopular, the German Bundestag in June passed a law making it easier to work in Germany with a foreign qualification. Among other changes, it lifts the requirement for employers to prove that no German or European worker could be found to fill the job. This should help any newcomers, including the refugees already in Germany.

It is hard to expect immigrants, many of whom went through unimaginable hardship, to adapt to life in a new country within the first few years, but given the self-selection described by Aksoy and Poutvaara, Germany can expect its generosity to pay off.

Integration programs are expensive — Germany spent 15.1 billion euros (US$16.7 billion) on them last year — but they are not more expensive than bringing up children and training them to take up the same jobs. Germany’s population would have been decreasing without immigration, anyway.

Germany and other European countries just need to ease the newcomers’ access to the labor market a little more. A quicker, more automatic process for recognizing qualifications would almost certainly pay off. After all, many of the refugees came in the hope of applying their existing skills in the new country, and showing so little trust in these skills is bad policy.

Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion’s Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion Web site Slon.ru. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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