Educational investments of migrants to Germany – implications for the Skilled Immigration Act*
Integration into the German labour market is often a process which takes several years, even for migrants who have already completed VET or a programme of higher education study abroad. The IAB-SOEP Migration Sample for the years 2013 to 2019 (derived from the annual migration survey carried out by the Institute for Employment Research, IAB, and the German Socio-Economic Panel, SOEP) is used to demonstrate that even these well-qualified groups of persons attend language courses and acquire further qualifications after they have arrived in the country. It also emerges that their participation in education and training is also determined by the legal migration channel used and by career choice as well as being driven by the level of qualification achieved prior to migration.
Immigrants display a lesser degree of labour market participation and lower work incomes than the native population, even if levels of education and qualification are comparable (cf. Algan et al. 2010). One of the main reasons for this is that they are only able to utilise their foreign qualifications to a limited extent in Germany. This particularly applies to immigrants from third countries (cf. Liebau/Romiti 2014). Even if they have already gained experience on the labour market and gathered skills, they still need to begin by endeavouring to secure recognition for their professional or vocational qualifications or else acquire education and training certificates in Germany. This means that the route into employment which is commensurate with their qualifications may often extend over a period of several years.
In 2019, only twelve percent of immigrants from third countries arrived in Germany for the purpose of employment. The proportion of those arriving for reasons of education and training was a mere eleven percent (cf. BAMF 2020, p. 87).1 The restrictions that have hitherto been applied to coming to Germany from a third country for purposes of employment have resulted in the selection of other legal entry routes by migrants.
The Skilled Immigration Act entered into force in 2020. It extends the possible right to enter Germany from a third country for the purpose of employment or seeking a job to cover persons with vocational education and training (see Information Box). If a job offer is in place, then evidence of a professional or vocational qualification recognised as being equivalent in Germany will be required. If immigration takes place for the purpose of seeking a job, then evidence needs to be provided of the knowledge of German necessary to perform the tasks to which the person aspires.
This article highlights below that both immigrants from another member state of the European Union (EU citizens) and those coming from third countries invest in acquiring (further) education and training qualifications and in gaining knowledge of the German language when they initially arrive in the country. This means that the conditions governing immigration (recognised vocational education and training and knowledge of German) are frequently obtained and fulfilled gradually post arrival. This also applies to persons who have completed a programme of training prior to immigration. The topic of the following analyses is the extent to which participation in education and training and in language courses is dependent on the immigration channel and on prior learning achieved beforehand and how this should be interpreted within the context of the Skilled Immigration Act.
The Skilled Immigration Act
The Skilled Immigration Act entered into force in 2020. Its particular objective is to foster the influx of skilled workers from third countries who have completed vocational education and training. The aim is thus to facilitate economic immigration for third country nationals who hold a job offer and who are able to demonstrate that they are in possession of a professional or vocational qualification that is recognised as being equivalent in Germany.
Immigration is now no longer restricted to shortage occupations. Investigations of priority have also been abolished. Before a skilled worker is recruited, there is thus no longer any need to check whether the services of a German or European skilled worker cannot be acquired instead. Notwithstanding this, the reintroduction of investigations of priority may be possible under certain circumstances.
The law also extends the possibility of entry to the country for the purpose of seeking work to persons who have completed vocational education and training. This entry for an economic purpose is linked to the requirement to demonstrate possession of a professional or vocational qualification that is recognised as being equivalent in Germany. Evidence also needs to be provided that the person has sufficient knowledge of German to exercise the occupational task to which they aspire.
Knowledge of German at level B1 or B2 is also necessary in order to enter Germany for vocational education and training, for higher education or for the purpose of seeking a training or higher education study place. Knowledge of German at level A2 is a prerequisite for immigration for the purpose of obtaining recognition for professional or vocational qualifications (for a detailed description cf. Brücker et al. 2019).
In order to investigate the extent to which immigrants have invested in the obtaining of professional and vocational qualifications and in acquisition of knowledge of German, an analysis was conducted of their participation in education and training and in language courses on the basis of the IAB-SOEP Migration Sample2 for the years from 2013 to 2019. The sample contains information on aspects such as the education and employment biographies of persons who have emigrated to Germany from the EU and from third countries. This information covers the survey years from 2013 to 2019 (see Information Box) and relates both to the time before and after their arrival in Germany. In order to map the most recent immigration adequately, the following results concentrate on persons who arrived in Germany from 2005 onwards. Asylum seekers and refugees were excluded. The sole object of consideration was immigrants born abroad who were not from a refugee background and who were aged between 18 and 64. This produces a sample of 2,494 persons.
The IAB-SOEP Migration Sample
Launched in 2013, the IAB-SOEP Migration Sample is a regular annual survey of households whose head exhibits a migrant background. It is a joint project conducted by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) and the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin which collects information on a multitude of migration-specific factors. The disproportionate sample used also enables the dataset to make statements on immigrants from certain counties of origin such as Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey and on ethnic German resettlers from the successor states of the former Soviet Union (for a detailed description of the dataset, cf. Brücker et al. 2014).
Educational investments differ by legal immigration channel and by purpose of stay
A total of 29 percent of immigrants have commenced vocational education and training, continuing training, retraining or a course of higher education study in Germany since their arrival (cf. Figure).3 Of these, 36 percent have already concluded company-based, school-based or other training or retraining. 26 percent have completed a course of higher education study. In addition to this, 45 percent have taken part in a language course in Germany.4
The figure further reveals that participation in education and training (36%) and in language courses (60%) are significantly higher for immigrants from third countries than for EU citizens (24% and 34% respectively). This also applies if account is taken of the purpose of stay at the time of immigration as stated in the survey. Closer consideration is accorded to two groups.
Family reunification – Persons who have come to Germany to join spouses, children or other family members who are already living in the country.
Education and training or employment-related purpose – Persons who have received a job offer from Germany and have come to the county as job seekers, students, pupils or trainees.
Persons who have immigrated for the purpose of family reunification are more likely to attend language courses and less likely to take part in education and training provision than persons who have immigrated for education and training or employment-related purposes. This applies to EU citizens and third country nationals alike. In overall terms, participation in education and training by third country nationals varies strongly by purpose of stay at the time of immigration. By way of contrast, the proportion of persons in this group who have taken part in a language course is at a relatively similar level.
Persons with academic qualifications are most likely to invest in education and training after arrival in the country
Those not in possession of a vocational education and training qualification when they arrive in Germany are not the only persons to invest in education and training in Germany (cf. Table). Persons who already hold a higher education qualification at the time of immigration are particularly likely to go on to acquire further education and training qualifications (38%). The group least likely to participate in education and training is those who have completed school-based or company-based training in their home country or who have undergone semi-skilled training at a company there (13%).
The table also makes it clear that higher proportions of third country nationals invest in education and training, even if the qualifications they have acquired prior to immigration are taken into account. 33 percent of persons who a completed a programme of higher education study and have migrated from an EU state go on to commence training, retraining or higher education in Germany. On the other hand, the corresponding figure for third country nationals with an academic qualification is 45 percent. A similar picture is displayed with regard to participation in language courses.
The level of participation in education in training in Germany between EU citizens and third country nationals is only shown to be at a similar level for persons who have completed company-based training or who have undergone semi-skilled training at a company. Nevertheless, third country nationals who have completed company-based training or who have undergone semi-skilled training at a company are very much more likely to take part in language courses (73%) than the corresponding group of EU citizens (36%).
|Participation in education and training||Participation in language courses|
|Total||EU citizens||Third country nationals||Total||EU citizens||Third country nationals|
|By education and training qualification after immigration|
|School-based/company-based training or semi-skilled||13.1%||12.9%||13.7%||45.0%||35.5%||72.8%|
|Higher education study, including doctorate||37.7%||32.7%||45.0%||53.2%||38.8%||73.9%|
Remarks: Only the value from the last observation is used in each respective case in order not to give too strong a weighting to persons who have taken part in the survey on more than one occasion as opposed to those who have responded only once.
Source: IAB-SOEP Migration Sample 2013–2019; weighted; own calculations and own representation.
Career choice and regulation influence investments in education and training and in language
The necessity of acquiring further education and training qualifications and of investing in gaining knowledge of the German language is materially dependent upon career choice. There is a clear difference between men and women in this regard. The empirical analyses reveal that, at the time of the survey, women are most likely to be employed in the occupational areas of “Health, social services, teaching and education” (27%) and “Commercial services, trading and sale of goods, distribution, hotel and tourism” (23%).5 Men, on the other hand, strongly tend to choose the areas of “Extraction of raw materials, production and manufacturing” (39%) and “Transport, logistics, protection and security” (22%).
Further empirical analyses show that, prior to immigration, women were more likely than men to be in regulated professions. Professions are deemed to be regulated if “the access to and the exercising of such a profession and the use of a professional title is linked with the necessity to provide evidence of a certain professional qualification” (Vicari 2014, p. 6). The Regulation Index in accordance with Vicari (2014) is used to differentiate occupational groups with a majority of regulated professions from occupational groups with a majority of unregulated occupations. This index measures the proportion of individual occupations within the occupational groups (three-digit code of the KldB 2010) which are regulated professions. The latter mainly include professions for which academic qualifications are required (e.g. teacher, doctor, engineer), but also encompass a number of professions which are accessed via training, such as many of the specialist healthcare professions (e.g. qualified nurse). Whereas the Regulation Index shows a value of 16.4 for tasks exercised by women prior to immigration, the corresponding figure for men is only 10.6.6 In addition to this, the tasks of persons who make further investments in education and training following their arrival in Germany exhibit a higher Regulation Index (20.1) than the tasks of persons who do not commence training, retraining or higher education after immigration (Regulation Index of 9.7). Choosing to exercise a regulated profession before immigration is thus associated with a greater need to invest in education and training after arrival.
Implications for the Skilled Immigration Act
The analyses carried out on the basis of the IAB-SOEP Migration Sample show that persons who have already acquired professional and vocational qualifications prior to immigration to Germany also often initially go on to obtain further such qualifications in Germany and need to take part in language courses in order to be able to utilise their qualifications previously achieved on the German labour market. This applies both to persons who have immigrated from a member state of the EU and to those from third countries.
In addition to this, women are more likely to choose professions which are regulated in Germany and in which fluency in the German language is a prerequisite. However, the present results are based on a simple descriptive analysis in which consideration has not been accorded to all factors relevant to participation in education and training. The correlation between precise career choice and the necessity of investing in education and training following immigration can therefore only be implied.
What do the results presented mean with regard to the Skilled Immigration Act? Against the background of the high number of persons who invest in education and training and in language knowledge following immigration, the stipulation the act contains regarding evidence of a recognised professional or vocational qualification and of knowledge of German depending on the particular purpose of entry should be evaluated as restrictive conditions for immigration. The analyses indicate that the conditions governing immigration (recognised vocational education and training and knowledge of German) are frequently obtained and fulfilled gradually post arrival. One reason for this is that professional and vocational qualifications in third countries are frequently acquired via direct semi-skilled learning at the company (cf. Bürmann 2020).
In future, the strict prerequisites for immigration for purposes of employment may possibly shorten the time between arrival in the country and initial employment in Germany for persons who are in possession of a professional or vocational qualification and have reached the language competence level required because the intention is (in some cases) for the recognition process of the professional and vocational qualifications to be brought forward to a point in time before immigration. This would be a desirable effect. It will possibly also enable better matching between the qualification of the immigrants and the requirements profile formulated by the companies.
However, it remains to be seen whether these restrictive prerequisites will actually bring about an increase in the number of immigrants. The restrictive conditions relating to immigration for the purpose of employment or seeking a job described above could constitute a barrier, even if immigration for employment purposes is no longer limited to shortage occupations and despite the fact that the investigation of priority has been abolished. Within the scope of this conflicting objective between quantity and quality of immigration, policy makers have tended to opt for controlled and careful management by introducing this law. Further research will be needed to respond to the question as to whether this will cover the requirement for skilled workers in the long term. We also need to wait and see whether and to which extent the reform will lead to a change in the composition and participation in education and training of persons who move to Germany from third countries for employment purposes, to look for a job, to seek recognition for professional and vocational qualifications and to pursue vocational education and training.
I would like to thank Alexander Christ for his constructive feedback on an earlier version of this article.
In this case, the influx of persons for the purpose of education and training encompasses immigrants beginning higher education study or a language course in Germany and further includes those attending school or completing another type of training. In addition to this, 18 percent have come to the country for family reasons. 18 percent have arrived for humanitarian reasons or special leave to remain. A further one percent holds a settlement permit whilst three percent are resident under EU law. The remaining 37 percent exhibit other reasons. They include, for example, persons exempted from the requirement for a residence permit and those who have submitted a residence permit application (cf. BAMF 2020, pp. 86–87).
Attendance at general school was excluded from the definition of participation in education and training because of the focus on vocational education and training.
The database does not make it possible to distinguish between types of language course. e.g. no distinction can be drawn between an integration course offered by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and an occupationally related language course.
Single-digit code of the Classification of Occupations (KldB 2010) in each case.
The Regulation Index is also higher for women (15.9) than for men (10.2) in respect of tasks currently exercised.
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Vicari, B.: Grad der standardisierten Zertifizierung des Berufs. Ein Indikator zur Messung institutioneller Eigenschaften von Berufen (KldB 2010, KldB 1988) (FDZ-Methodenreport Nr. 4/2014). Nürnberg 2014
Dr. Eric Schuß
Academic researcher at BIBB
Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2022): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin