Substantial number of refugees hold illegal jobs in Germany

One of the main reasons pushing refugees into illegal employment is the long waiting times and periods of inactivity at registration centres. [Freedom House/Flickr]

Many refugees in Germany are in illegal employment, according to radio station NDR. In addition to poor working conditions, the employees at times earn just €1 an hour. EURACTIV Germany reports.

NDR’s investigation of various authorities, social workers, researchers and the refugees themselves paints a sobering picture of integration in Germany. The radio station found that new arrivals in the Federal Republic cannot access the legal labour market and instead hire themselves out on the shadow economy, as dishwashers, cleaners or decorators for a fraction of the going rate. Their wages sometimes drop as low as eight cents an hour.

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How many refugees are in illegal work is difficult to confirm due to lack of reliable data. The Tübingen Institute for Applied Economic Research (IAW) and the University of Linz concluded in a February study that up to 300,000 new jobs have been created by the shadow economy.

According to the study, one of the main reasons for this upsurge in illegal employment is poor integration. “Refugees are confined to their welcome centres for months on end, so it is not suprising that they would want to get out and work, even illegally,” said one of the authors, Professor Friedrich Schneider of Linz University.

Another one of the core problems is language skills. Although refugees are mostly willing to learn German and do so quite quickly, it is no quick enough for employers or the refugees themselves. For example, the 30 biggest DAX-listed companies only employ 54 refugees between them, despite the growing need for skilled, professional personnel.

The CEO of Berlin’s chamber of trade, Ulrich Wiegand, told how important it is for refugees to have the right qualifications in order to find a job. “A complete education is the way forward,” he added.

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Many newcomers are also dissuaded by the German labour market’s complex minefield of laws and regulations.

A survey of local job centres by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development showed refugees’ motivation to find work is strong on the outset, when they first arrive in Germany, but that the longer the initial phase of registration and bureaucracy takes, the more the desire to find a job and start earning pushes them towards illegal employment.

“A number of refugees therefore would rather take an insecure and badly paid job, for which they are over-qualified,” concluded the Berlin think tank.

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Undeclared work means quick cash payments, but it also perpetuates the cycle of non-integration. It remains to be seen whether the country’s new integration act, which entered into force this month, will have a substantial impact in helping refugees find gainful, legal employment.

Just over a week ago, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, called upon companies to provide tips and support on how to better an more quickly integrate refugees into the economy. One of her deputies, Julia Klöckner, recently called German companies’ integration efforts “shameful”.

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