Without Further Qualification, Only a Few Refugees Can Be Quickly Integrated into the Labour Market

Questions & Answers

The wave of refugees arriving in Germany in 2015 has presented the country with the challenge of integrating these migrants into society. Researchers at ZEW have been conducting an investigation into the integration process by following a group of refugees involved in the inclusive football project HEIMSTÄRKE (“home strength”), which encourages the integration of refugees into society and the labour market through sport. ZEW education economist Friedhelm Pfeiffer discusses the study and its possible implications for both policy-makers and refugees.

Does sport, in this context football, help refugees to integrate?

The results of our study suggest this may indeed be the case, albeit with some limitations. In cooperation with the HEIMSTÄRKE football project, which is being run by the association Anpfiff ins Leben e.V., we conducted a scientific analysis as part of the Real-World Laboratory: Asylum Seekers project. Due to the fact that the participants of the football project consisted exclusively of young men, the findings may not hold for other groups of refugees. However, in my view, the results point also to the more general conclusion that participation in sports activities can help to encourage integration. The majority of participants for instance said that they would enjoy attending the football project for more than two hours a week.

What do we know from a socio-economic perspective about the people who are coming to Germany?

We conducted surveys of the participants of three football courses in Wiesloch, Walldorf and Sinsheim as well as another group of refugees who did not take part in any of the courses. Based on our analysis of the data collected, there are some observable short-term positive integration effects. The majority of the 81 young men who took part in the survey listed Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq or Gambia as their country of origin and had been in Germany for around nine months. At the time of the survey, the men were on average 23 years old, had nine years of schooling or vocational training and five years of previous employment experience in their country of origin. 77 per cent claimed to have arrived to Germany after crossing the Mediterranean. The average cost of their journey was around 4,900 euros per head. Given the relatively high expense of fleeing to Europe, one may conclude that many of the young refugees come from relatively (compared to the country of origin) well-off families.

What can the local labour market expect from these refugees?

It’s impossible to generalise the results of our survey, but nationwide studies of Germany suggest that around a fifth of asylum seekers in 2015 and 2016 were men aged between 18 and 25, the same age group that we have been investigating. The current research findings suggest that the majority of refugees have an above-average level of education compared to peers in their countries of origin. Nevertheless, their level of education is, far below the average of young people in Germany. The numbers also point to considerable variation in the level of education among refugees, ranging from almost zero to an academic degree. Taken together this means that in the short term only a relatively small percentage of the refugees can be quickly integrated into the German labour market. Most of them presumably lack the qualifications needed for fast integration. The majority of the young refugees would be well advised to further invest in their own education, for instance by participating in available qualification programmes, if they want to stay in Germany. If they manage to do so, labour markets may benefit in the medium-term.

Conversely, what expectations do refugees have of the German and European labour market?

The young refugees who participated in the Real-Life Laboratory: Asylum Seekers project are rather optimistic that they will find a job in Germany. Having previous experience working in their homelands, they expect to earn between ten and eleven euros an hour here in Germany. I don’t think these are unrealistic expectations, especially if the refugees put the necessary time and effort into their integration into a modern, open economy.