Labor Market

Employers Want More Help with Refugees

refugee job training.dpa.Jan Woitas
A German driving coach trains a Syrian asylum seeker to drive a 40-ton truck in early 2016 as part of constructon firm Günter Papenburg's training program.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Placing migrants in the labor market is among Germany’s toughest integration challenges. The government needs employers’ help with training and employment.

  • Facts


    • It is estimated that about a half of the refugees who have arrived in Germany in recent years will remain in the country long-term.
    • Berlin has proposed a set of measures to encourage faster labor-market integration of migrants, who are often low-skilled workers.
    • The government plans to make up to 10,000 apprenticeships available to migrant youth over the next 2 years.
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The German government, tackling a wave of refugees reaching the country’s borders in the past year, is set to get some major backing for its attempts to integrate them into Germany’s labor market.

Germany’s employers’ federation plans to cautiously welcome the government’s new integration law, according to an internal report seen by Handelsblatt. But the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations, or BDA, also says it does not go far enough to promote labor market participation among the new arrivals.

The draft law, set for a vote in the German parliament on May 24, aims to ease the way into German society for over a million asylum seekers who arrived in the country last year.

In plans announced last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-left coalition outlined measures to promote integration, offering refugees incentives to assimilate into German society, and threatening penalties for those who do not integrate with benefit cuts and even deportation.

The proposal also promised 100,000 new low-paid jobs for migrants in a bid to ease their way onto the job market. Under certain circumstances, laws requiring preference to be given to German or E.U. job applicants would be suspended.

“We don’t want a two-tier system training second-class craftspeople. ”

Johanna Wanka, Education Minister

A key part of the plans is the integration of new migrants into Germany’s comprehensive system of apprenticeships. In this long-standing system, companies take responsibility for individual apprentices, giving them on-the-job training for two or more years, while the trainees also attend formal educational classes.

In an interview with Handelsblatt, Johanna Wanka, the federal minister for education and research, said the apprenticeship system was a vital tool for integrating new arrivals and 10,000 new apprenticeship positions would be made available to migrants over the next two years. But the openings would not mean dumbing down the system.

“We don’t want a two-tier system training second-class craftspeople. It makes more sense to focus on better preparing migrants to take the apprenticeships,” she added.

According to their position paper, the BDA welcomed the new proposals on how to employ and educate asylum seekers. Under the new laws, refugees would be guaranteed residence rights for the entire duration of an apprenticeship. If they are then hired in their profession, their residence rights will continue for a further 2 years. If they are not hired by the company who trained them, they will have 6 months to find work.

But the BDA wants to see the measures better incorporated into a broader system of integration. So that “investment in training and employment is not lost,” the employers’ federation wants the two years of employment to count as a successful indicator of integration, leading to a longer-term residence permit.

The BDA also approves of mandatory residence rules for non-employed migrants. These rules, intended to stop the emergence of slums in large cities, are a controversial element in the debate over the integration of asylum seekers. They can force migrants to live in rural areas, but some observers say this could prevent the mobility necessary for a flexible labor market.

The BDA paper also warned that the 100,000 “job opportunities” outlined in the law should only be used as a last resort, because of possible distorting effects on the broader labor market.

The employers’ federation wants 2 years of employment to count toward successful integration, leading to a longer-term residence permit.

The employers’ body also called for a general 3-year suspension of laws requiring preferential hiring of Germans and E.U. citizens, as well as a lifting of limitations on employing refugees through employment agencies.

The task of bringing new arrivals into the employment system is made more complicated by existing problems experienced on the job market by earlier migrants, who are underrepresented among those taking up apprenticeships. It is estimated that 56 percent of “native Germans” undertake some form of apprenticeship, whereas among families of recent immigrants, the figure is just 33 percent.

Ms. Wanka said it was important for “society to grow together” so that these differences could be ironed out. To achieve this, work opportunities must be extended to those of all backgrounds, and migrants’ concerns about apprenticeships should be dispelled, she told Handelsblatt.


Barbara Gillmann covers education, research, family policy, demographic development. Frank Specht focuses on the German labor market and trade unions.  To contact the authors:

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