Austria, Germany on track to employ half of the refugees who arrived during the migration crisis four years ago
Refugees arriving in their hundreds of thousands to Europe in 2015 sparked many concerns among the public. People anxiously anticipated rising crime rates, cultural and religious differences to contend with, and that those who had fled to Europe would be incapable of finding employment there.
It is exactly with respect to the labor market that reality has apparently exceeded expectations for the better, at least in the two countries where the most asylum-seekers per capita have been received, Austria and Germany. In Austria, as of July this year, 44 % of refugees who made it into the country during 2015 have now managed to find employment.
The Austrian authorities' aim was for roughly half of the asylum-seekers granted residency to get jobs within five years of their arrival. Johannes Kopf, head of the Arbeitsmarktservice Agency (AMS), announced that Austria will achieve that level of refugee employment next year - in other words, according to plan or even slightly ahead of schedule.
Kopf added that refugees are finding employment in agriculture above all, or in auxiliary jobs on construction sites. He therefore does not believe they are taking employment opportunities away from Austrian citizens.
Savings that may cost more in the long run
In Austria, a coalition Government including the sharply anti-immigration Freedom Party has been in power for a year and a half, and the party has pushed through cuts to the state contributions for refugee integration, including funding for German language courses and reductions to the financing of Labor Offices. Those measures have reaped criticism from experts and organizations that aid asylum-seekers with beginning a new life in Austria.
While the numbers of employed refugees are rising despite the cuts, the AMS Agency would have managed to find the refugees jobs according to their actual qualifications if they had been given more resources by the state, Kopf said. As for Germany, the authorities had the same aim in 2015 - to employ roughly half of the freshly-registered refugees within five years.
July statistics from that country demonstrate that while progress toward that aim is happening more slowly than in Austria, the proportion of employed asylum-seekers is distinctly growing at a stable rate. The president of the association of German employers' unions, Ingo Kramer, expressed amazement last year, in light of the labor market statistics, that the growth was "going so fast".
100 000 refugee employees annually
Currently, 35 % of the refugees who have arrived in Germany since 2015 have jobs, at least those from the eight main sending countries of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. In absolute numbers, this is 400 000 people out of the roughly 1.2 million who arrived in Germany between 2015-2018.
The German statistics, unlike the Austrian ones, also include refugees who have been in Germany a shorter time and who have had less time to find work, to attend German language courses, and to take the other necessary bureaucratic steps compared to those who arrived there four years ago. In August 2018, 100 000 fewer refugees in Germany had found work than have it today.
The country's declared aim of employing roughly half of those who arrived in 2015 by the end of next year is not at all unrealistic. Ulrich Walwei of the Institute for Research of the Labor Market and Professions in Nuremberg told the daily Die Welt that refugees in Germany also mostly work in auxiliary positions in manufacturing, as cleaning staff, in gastronomy and in agriculture.
What will the crisis yield?
The biggest question surrounding this positive development on the Austrian and German labor markets is how big of a problem it will be in the future that so many refugees have taken the path of finding less-qualified, poorly-paid jobs as fast as possible, something that will not be known until the Austrian and German economies weaken - such jobs will be the first to disappear when that happens. In the German case, economists are already warning against a decline into recession, while in the Austrian case they are just observing a weakening in economic growth for now.
In Austria, moreover, the cuts to labor market integration measures could backfire. The "saved" money could have been used to ensure refugees entered the labor market better equipped in terms of language and training so they could aspire to better jobs.
While the current statistics from Austria and Germany are far from a "happy ending" to the story of the integration of these refugees, they are part of the overall picture of how the countries most affected by the migration wave have coped with the new arrivals. This data demonstrates that in some respects, the reality has positively exceeded the more cautious expectations.
This article was written for the Institute for Independent Journalism in the Czech Republic, an independent, nonprofit organization and registered institute involved in publishing information, journalism and news reporting. Its analyses, articles and data outputs are offered to all equally for use under certain conditions.
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