Mary Atfeh, a Syrian psychologist, was lucky: She only came to Germany in 2015, but found a found a job a year later. Atfeh is studying in Berlin to become a medical consultant. She already has given advice to other refugees as apart of the KommRum association - especially to those who can't cope with what they experienced during their journey or in their home country. Even if she hears a lot of terrible things from them, she is not afraid of being overwhelmed by her own feelings. "I hear these stories on the news everyday anyway. As a psychologist, I can help refugees process the terrible things they witnessed," she said.
Employment rate depends on arrival year
Atfeh is an exception. Out of the many refugees who came to Germany during the 2015 influx, only ten percent of them have found work. This was the result of a study from the Institute for the Job Market and Career Research (IAB in German) of around 4,800 refugees. Of those who came to Germany in 2016, only six percent have a job. If one doesn't factor in paid internships, the numbers look even worse. Only two percent of people who came as refugees in 2016 to Germany have a job. Of the refugees that came in 2015 the number is only six percent.
Refugees have to overcome many difficulties. In most cases, they can't speak German and don't know the local labor market. On the other end, employers cannot properly assess their qualifications. A complicated administrative apparatus also bogs down job search. To be able to work requires a work permit - and this may take time.
Refugees undergoing asylum procedures are often tied to their place of residence and cannot move somewhere else quickly for a new job. In addition, there is a lack of certainty for the employer: what if the asylum application is rejected and the new employee has to leave? Recognizing their qualifications or training can also wear on.
But experts are hopeful: the longer a refugee stays in Germany, the higher the probability they will find work. The IAB believes it is possible that fifty percent of refugees will find a job five years after their arrival. After 15 years there should hardly be any differences between the employment rate of the refugees and that of the general population. This is also in line with the figures: of the people who have already arrived in 2013, around one-third have a job.
The employment rate of Syrians is comparatively low compared to people from Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. According to the German Office for Migration and Refugees or BAMF, only 6.8 percent of them had a job - but the trend is rising. One reason: the majority of the Syrian refugees came to Germany only in the last two years.
Networks and German proficiency
What is particularly important in the job search? According to the IAB, personal networks play a particularly important role. The institute surveyed 5,000 people with immigration history. According to this survey, more than half have found jobs through family, friends or acquaintances. Good German skills and recognition of professional qualifications are also key to the labor market. Those who already were employed back in their home country also often find a job in Germany.
In the meantime there are initiatives to help refugees find employment – with varying success. The one-euro job program, for example, has been drastically reduced due to lack of demand. Critics say the administrative burden was too great. The program was designed to provide refugees, who were not granted asylum, simple jobs.
Sometimes asylum seekers also try to earn an income in an informal way. One example is Abdul Zahar Basir from Bangladesh. He has been living since 2015 in Bonn and collects bottles. "In the summer one can earn up to 25 Euros by doing this," he said. He uses the money to support his family in Bangladesh, who he hasn't seen in years.