Merkel chafes over lack of jobs for refugees

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday, after she had met the leaders of blue-chip companies, that Germany needed viable solutions to integrate refugees into the workforce faster.

These companies have hired fewer than 100 refugees since about a million arrived in the country last year.

Merkel, fighting for her political life over her open-door policy, summoned the bosses of some of Germany’s biggest companies to Berlin on Wednesday to account for their lack of action and to exchange ideas about how they can do better.

Many of the companies contend that a lack of German-language skills, the inability of most refugees to prove any qualifications and uncertainty about their permission to stay in the country mean there is little they can do in the short term.

Merkel told RBB-Inforadio that, if needed, special provisions could be developed to speed up the integration of refugees but acknowledged this would still take time.

“Many are in integration courses or waiting to get on them. So I think we will need to show some patience, but must be ready at any time to develop viable solutions,” she said.

A survey by Reuters of the 30 companies in Germany’s DAX stock index found they could point to just 63 refugee hires in total. Several of the 26 firms who responded said they considered it discriminatory to ask about applicants’ migration history, so they did not know whether they employed refugees or how many.

What is clear is that early optimism that the wave of refugees might boost economic growth and help ease a skills shortage in Germany — where the working-age population is projected to shrink by six million people by 2030 — is evaporating.

Most large German companies, especially those in manufacturing, prefer to hire people who have been through structured apprenticeship programmes, in which they train young people for up to four years.

But the recent arrivals of people from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are mainly ill-prepared for such training, they say. And it is simply too soon to expect large numbers of refugees to have been hired yet.

“Our experience is that it takes a minimum of 18 months for a well-trained refugee to go through the asylum procedure and learn German at an adequate level to apply for a job,” said a spokeswoman for Deutsche Telekom, which plans to take on 75 refugees as apprentices this year but has not yet made a permanent hire.

Others among Germany’s top-listed companies, mainly in the financial or airline sectors, say it is practically impossible for them to take on refugees at all. They cite regulatory reasons such as the need for detailed staff background checks.

Many large companies see the main benefits of the refugee influx as an opportunity to introduce more diversity into their workforce and to bring their staff into personal contact with refugees. More than 1 000 internships have been offered by the companies surveyed by Reuters.

About 346 000 people with asylum status were seeking jobs in Germany in August, according to the latest figures from the German Labour Office, up from 322 000 in July and 297 000 in June, the first month for which it published such statistics.

Economists say that most refugees who have found employment are in the services sector, often in smaller companies or in smaller towns and cities to which refugees are dispersed under a strict German formula for allocating new arrivals according to the wealth and population of states and districts.

“Obviously, in the low-skilled segment, mobility is low, Germans often won’t go very far to find a low-skilled job. Now you have these refugees on your doorstep,” said Thomas Liebig, an economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development who specialises in migration.

“Will Germany manage?” he asked, referring to Merkel’s mantra: “We can do this”.

“There’s basically not a choice. The people are here,” Liebig said. — Reuters

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