Integration Challenge

Refugee Agency Head Resigns

Refugee face at fence-gregor fischer-dpa
Many of the refugees coming to Germany are unskilled and would require training to be integrated into the workforce.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The expectation that the current wave of refugees and migrants will help to solve Germany’s labor shortage is overly optimistic.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • An estimated 1 million refugees will arrive in Germany this year.
    • The head of Germany’s Federal Office for Immigrants and Refugees Manfred Schmidt led the agency since 2010.
    • Research data on asylum seekers and refugees coming to Germany in previous years shows that about 40 percent were either graduates or trained professionals.
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    Audio

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The head of Germany’s Federal Office for Immigrants and Refugees, Manfred Schmidt, 56, unexpectedly resigned on Thursday “for personal reasons,” the German Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

The agency is tasked with granting and rejecting asylum requests and integrating migrants into German society.

Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister who was Mr. Schmidt’s boss, lamented the civil servant’s departure and praised his efforts to cope with the largest influx of asylum seekers since the early 1990s.

Mr. Schmidt’s agency has been the target of increasing criticism in recent months, as it struggles to process a ballooning number of asylum requests.

Through August, more than 256,938 people applied for asylum in Germany, a number outstripping the 202,834 requests for the whole of 2014.

The influx of refugees, which could total 1 million this year, are seen by some as a welcome boost to German businesses, which are having trouble finding employees to fill vacant positions. The number of young people entering the trades in Germany declined by 25 percent over the past 10 years and continues to drop.

In 2014, a third of all businesses were unable to fill all their apprenticeship positions, and a record 600,000 positions were unfilled. So, from the standpoint of labor market policy, it would seem that Germany could benefit from the influx of refugees.

But Klaus Zimmermann, director of the Institute for the Study of Labor, or IZA, doesn’t think so and prefers to puts a damper on the euphoria. “Refugees alone will not solve our demographic problem,” he said. “Merely the fact that a lot of new people are coming to Germany now doesn’t mean everything will be fine.”

Forecasting is difficult at the moment, because Germany lacks a reliable assessment of the newcomers’ qualifications. Based on initial experiences with the “Early Intervention” pilot project launched by the Federal Employment Agency, less than a tenth of all asylum seekers could be directly placed into jobs.

“The Syrian doctor is not the norm,” said Labor Minister Andrea Nahles, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party.

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