Missed opportunity Germany wasting potential of its migrants

The country is good at integrating migrants into its labor market, but fails to exploit their skills because many German employers don't recognize foreign qualifications.
Quelle: imago/Rainer Weisflog
Skills: check. Education: check. German stamp: uhh...

(Source: imago/Rainer Weisflog)

Germany has made progress integrating migrants into its booming job market, but it needs to get better at acknowledging job qualifications attained abroad, according to an international study conducted by the OECD.

The proportion of migrants in paid employment increased by eight percentage points to 67 percent in the decade up to 2017, the study found. That’s still 10 points below the employment ratio among Germans, but the increase is bigger.

The jobless rate among migrants has fallen at twice the rate as among non-migrants over that decade. The shortcoming is that migrants with qualifications obtained in Germany have a far higher employment ratio – 15 points more – than those who obtained their training abroad. 

“We have got to get better at recognizing job qualifications,” said the German government’s integration commissioner, Annette Widmann-Mauz. The figures indicate that Germany, which never ceases to bemoan its lack of skilled labor, is failing to use the full potential that many migrants bring with them.

Quarter of inhabitants has foreign roots

Almost four in 10 migrants employed in Germany who got their qualifications abroad are overqualified for their current occupations. The corresponding percentage for Germans and migrants with German qualifications is less than 20 percent.

“Overall there’s a positive trend in Germany regarding the integration of migrants and it’s succeeding better than in countries with comparable migration histories,” said OECD migration expert Thomas Liebig.

But Germany needed to do more to integrate women, low-skilled migrants and their children, he added.

Germany currently has some 13 million inhabitants who were born abroad plus 6 million children born in Germany to migrants. Together they make up 24 percent of the population.

That puts German above the OECD and EU average. Japan, Spain, Portugal, and many eastern European countries have a far lower share of migrants while classic immigration countries like the US, Canada and Australian have a higher percentage, as do Austria, France, Switzerland and several Baltic states.

Around one in three immigrants in Germany have a low standard of education, defined as having ended their schooling after the 10th grade. That’s on a par with the EU average of 34 percent, but well above the OECD’s 27 percent average.

The proportion of skilled immigrants with college degrees or high vocational qualifications amounts to 23 percent, which is well below the average in OECD and EU countries.

Given the high share of low-skilled migrants in Germany, the rise in employment is a success. But the study also highlights that the employment ratio among women migrants lags further behind their male counterparts than the gap between German men and women. And children born in Germany to immigrants tend to attain a lower level of education than German children.

Frank Specht writes about the jobs market and labor unions from Handelsblatt's Berlin office. To contact the author: [email protected]