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The Unwelcome Graduate

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What happens after they finish their studies?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany has a labor shortage, but isn’t doing enough to help foreign students in the country stay on after they graduate.

  • Facts


    • No foreign student in Germany is allowed to stay longer than 10 years without a work permit.
    • After international students finish their studies, they have 18 months to find a job in Germany.
    • According to a study, only 35 percent of international students actually feel welcome in Germany.
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Next year Gabriel da Silva will finish his university degree in Thuringia.

He is Brazilian and has been studying in Germany for the past five years. After he finishes his degree, he would like to stay in Germany. But if he doesn’t find work, he may be deported back to his home country.

Like Mr. da Silva, many university students would like to stay in Germany. Most hope to find a good job but there are no statistics that show how many of them actually do. A survey by the German Academic DAAD shows that every second international student could imagine staying on in Germany after completing a degree.

Many graduates describe their search for work as tough. If they are not from Europe, some fear being deported. Others simply don’t feel welcome in Germany.

This comes as a surprise given that Germany advertises itself as a country where an international workforce is wanted. On a website run by the German government it reads: “Make it in Germany!” to attract qualified workers from all around the world.

If Mr. Da Silva doesn’t find anything that matches with his qualifications, he has to go back to Brazil. He won’t be able to continue the jobs he has been doing on the side.

So Germany should have an interest in people who studied there and have the necessary skills to perform well on the labor market.

Johanna Wanka, Germany’s education minister, says the country is happy for all those who decide to stay whether temporarily or for longer. “We need them urgently,” she added.

Susanne Orth, who works for the careers office at Frankfurt Oder’s Viadrina University, says that many students want to stay on after they finish their studies. Mr. da Silva too had initially only come to study for his degree. But after a few years in Germany he liked the country. “When you live in a country for five years you’re not the same person anymore,” he said.

But his enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily chime with everyone. Since Mr. da Silva is already 32 years old, he got the strong impression from the immigration office that he wasn’t wanted.

No student in Germany is allowed to stay longer than 10 years. So Mr. da Silva studies hard for each exam as the immigration office wants proof of every exam that he passes.

The German DAAD wants international students to be given more leeway in the time that they have to complete their studies in Germany.

The director of the Berlin immigration office, Engelhard Mazanke, however, sees no reason to take action. The rules in Germany are the most liberal in the whole world, he said. “Where we could be more innovative is in the way we link students to jobs afterwards,” he said.

When Mr. Da Silva has completed his studies, he has exactly 18 months to find a job in Germany. “With graduates we are generous,” Mr. Mazanke said. “If someone comes to us with a completed degree and says they want to work, anyone would typically get an extension. One wouldn’t even need to prove to us that one is actively applying for jobs.”

But if Mr. Da Silva doesn’t find anything in this period that matches with his qualifications, he has to go back to Brazil. He won’t be able to continue the jobs he has been doing on the side. The immigration office wants to ensure that students who stay on are not used as a source of cheap labor.

Susanne Orth said she thinks companies need to do more. “We need more internships because they are a way for international students to enter a workplace,” she said. She added that companies should think about how they can make entry for international students smoother, even when international students don’t have native level  German language abilities.

Sometimes university students also experience racism. Only 35 percent of all international students feel welcome in Germany, according to a study by DAAD. It also found 30 percent of students coming from Sub-Saharan Africa felt discriminated against.

But even European students are struggling to find work. Agnieszca Breska, who came from Poland did various internships and took several  language classes but feels her lack of fluent German is holding her back.

Susanne Orth encourages international students to learn German early. “It’s never too soon to be able to order a beer in German!”

This article first appeared in Der Tagesspiegel. To contact the author:

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