Aydan Özoguz dismissed last year’s Integration Summit as a “nice little tea party” complete with “nice photo opportunities” and “warm words.” That was before the Social Democrat (SPD) politician of Turkish descent joined the federal government herself. Now she’s integration commissioner, and on Monday she and Chancellor Angela Merkel were joint hosts of the summit, an annual meeting that focuses on intergrating people with migrant backgrounds.
"We made good progress,” Ms. Özoguz said following the gathering of 110 delegates in the chancellery in Berlin, adding that much work still remained.
Participants of the seventh such summit had restricted themselves to a relatively narrow agenda: vocational training for immigrant families. The round of discussions under Ms. Özoguz didn’t produce any tangible results, but two things were apparent.
While the past summits were often overshadowed by conflicts between the government and migrant associations, discussions are now “increasingly harmonious,” said Nihat Sorgec of the Kreuzberger Bildungswerk, a Berlin-based service provider for vocational education.
Fifty-six percent of all newcomers have a job, and 36 percent have one requiring high qualifications.
Secondly, Germany is coming to terms with its role as an immigration country, albeit a bit reluctantly. "Integration is no one-way street,” said Ms. Merkel, referring to a German society that had to become more open-minded.
The importance of better integration of immigrants, especially young people, is apparent: Immigration to Germany grew last year more than in any other country, according to the migration outlook report of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
According to preliminary figures, about 465,000 people came to live in Germany in 2013 – twice as many as in 2007. This year, the threshold of 500,000 could be crossed for the first time. After the United States, Germany is the most popular immigration country for the second year in a row.
The good thing about this development is an ever-increasing number of immigrants entering the labor market, according to OECD expert Thomas Liebig. Fifty-six percent of all newcomers have a job, and 36 percent have one requiring high qualifications. Even less-qualified immigrants are now more often employed than people born in Germany.
Last week, a study commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a liberal think tank, calculated that foreigners living in Germany contributed considerably more to the state than they received from it in social benefits.
At the same time, experts point out the cost of unsuccessful integration: For every person under 30 who pays less tax on average than German citizens, society loses out to the tune of €118,400 ($147,027) in the course of that person’s life. That’s why targeted efforts have to be made to facilitate educational success.
But woeful deficits exist: Young people without a German passport start a course of vocational training only half as often as their German counterparts.
Ms. Merkel emphasized how important it was to provide these people with vocational advice, “especially if such counseling is not available within the family structure.”
Bureaucratic obstacles lead to migrants who are ready to work having to wait far too long for approval.
Highly qualified immigrants also face big problems: Less than half work in jobs that correspond to their qualifications. "Rapid recognition of foreign educational certificates and language training are the basis for labor market integration," said Andrea Nahles, Germany’s labor minister and a member of the Social Democrats.
The business community is also pushing for bureaucratic obstacles to be scrapped. "Recognition of educational qualifications might function on paper, but it’s usually a catastrophe in practice," said Lutz Goebel, president of the Association of Family Entrepreneurs. It leads to a situation where migrants who are ready to work have to wait far too long for approval.
The economy’s demand is enormous, given the growing lack of qualified employees. Many companies have already turned to recruiting employees from abroad and offering them help with integration, Mr. Goebel said.
Eric Schweitzer, president of the German Industry and Chamber of Commerce, said the nation’s economy needs “every single migrant" who is prepared to undergo vocational training.
Till Hoppe is Handelsblatt's foreign policy correspondent and is based in Berlin. Handelsblatt editor Peter Thelen writes about social security systems, the job market, and collective labor agreements and wage policies. To contact the authors: [email protected]; [email protected]