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Labour market

Immigrants: good command of German is the key to success in the labour market

Destatis, 23 August 2016

Net immigration in 2015 (1.16 million foreigners) was the highest in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. After many immigrants had come from eastern and southern Europe to Germany in the years before, more refugee migrants from non-European countries sought refuge in Germany in 2015. For those who are granted the right to stay in Germany, integration in the labour market is necessary. The importance of good command of German is shown by the additional microcensus survey of 2014, which covered the labour market situation of immigrants and their direct descendants. The term of immigrant used here differs from the definition of the population with a migrant background, data on which are released by the Federal Statistical Office every year on the basis of the microcensus. It should be noted that the additional survey refers to 2014 and, consequently, the asylum-seekers and people seeking refuge in 2015 were not covered by the survey.

First and second-generation immigrants

Age structure of immigrants and natives, 2014Enlarge picture

When examining immigration to Germany, two different groups of people have to be distinguished. Persons born abroad are referred to as first-generation immigrants. In 2014, this group included mainly the ethnic German repatriates and refugees (especially from the former Yugoslavia) and people from European Union countries who immigrated to Germany for the purpose of taking up work. Persons born in Germany with at least one parent born abroad are referred to as second-generation immigrants. They include, for example, the children of the migrant workers of the 1960s without personal migration experience.

First-generation immigrants have a similar age structure as natives, that is, people born in Germany whose parents were born in Germany, too. Second-generation immigrants are markedly younger. In 2014, almost two thirds of the second-generation immigrants were between 20 and 34 years old. The relevant share of the native population and of the immigrants born abroad was not more than roughly 30% each.

Lower employment rate of immigrants born abroad, especially of women

The employment rate of immigrants not born in Germany was 69.3% in 2014, that is, roughly ten percentage points lower than that of the native population (79.6%). The employment rate of second-generation immigrants (75.5%) was between those of the other two groups. Women who were born abroad and then immigrated to Germany have obviously most difficulties in the labour market. Their employment rate was just 60.6%, compared with 75.9% of the native population and 74.0% of the women of the second generation of immigrants. In addition, just over a third of these women neither pursued nor looked for paid work, whereas among native women the percentage was just over a fifth. The employment rate of male immigrants, too, was lower than that of native men, though the difference was smaller than for women. 83.2% of the native population were in employment, while the employment rate of the immigrants born abroad was 78.4%. Second-generation immigrants were even less often in employment (76.9%). It is striking that the 25 to 44 year old men of the second generation of immigrants had lower employment rates than their peers born abroad, although they were educated in Germany.

The unemployment rate, too, differs markedly between the native population and the immigrants. Among the second-generation immigrants, the percentage of unemployed in the labour force was 7.1%. The unemployment rate of immigrants born abroad (8.3%) was almost twice that of the native population (4.2%).

Digression: Selected employment rates of immigrants in the European Union

The higher people's command of German, the higher their labour force participation

Age structure of immigrants and natives, 2014Enlarge picture

In the following, only first-generation immigrants and natives are compared with each other. For the second-generation immigrants, German-language skills are probably less of a problem because they were born in Germany and grew up there. This is why this group is not included in the further examinations. The information on German-language skills of the first-generation immigrants is based on the respondents' self-assessment.

In 2014, the employment rate of immigrants with a basic knowledge of German was just 52.3%, while it increased continuously with better language skills, reaching 77.3% among immigrants speaking fluent German. In the latter group, the employment rate almost reached that of natives (79.6%). Especially for women who were born abroad and immigrated to Germany, learning the language is crucial for integration in the labour market. Women with basic knowledge of German have an employment rate of just 36.1%. When they improve their language skills, the rate increases to 72.2% (native women: 75.9%). In turn, unemployment rates increase with decreasing German-language skills. Immigrants with poor language skills have an unemployment rate of 13.7%, compared with 4.2% of the native population.

Without good command of German, people get less qualified jobs

In 2014, many immigrant employees who were not born in Germany and had a basic knowledge of German ended up in elementary occupations (43.2% compared with 6.0% of the natives). A good fifth worked in craft occupations and just 8.7% did a highly qualified job with their basic knowledge of German. This shows again that first-generation immigrants could improve their occupational status by improving their language skills. Only 14.3% of the first-generation immigrants speaking fluent German worked in elementary occupations. Also, they had more often clerical support jobs and did much more frequently highly qualified jobs (30.3%).

Table: Language skills and occupations of first-generation immigrants

Overqualification among employees - depending on German-language skills?

Age structure of immigrants and natives, 2014Enlarge picture

German-language skills have an influence on labour market participation. The better the language skills of immigrants born abroad, the more often they have a qualified job. However, this does not reveal anything about the degree to which occupational requirements match actual qualifications. To what extent can people be satisfied with their job in the long term if they are overqualified?

In the additional microcensus survey of 2014, the extent of overqualification was covered in addition to the command of German. The respondents were asked to indicate whether the job they do corresponds to their qualification.

The better their German-language skills, the less often first-generation immigrants classified themselves as overqualified. Among the first-generation immigrants whose mother tongue is German, the proportion of overqualified (12.8%) was almost at the same level as that of natives (11.0%). However, about one in five immigrants who were born abroad and speak fluently, or have advanced knowledge of German, classified themselves as overqualified. Among immigrants who have just beginners' or basic knowledge of German, the share of overqualified was slightly smaller (18.5%). This can partly be attributed to the fact that this group includes an above-average proportion of people among whom there will obviously be fewer overqualified persons because they have a low level of education.

As it turns out, there is a connection between German-language skills and the extent to which qualification and job requirements correspond to each other. This connection is not perceived as very important by those concerned. Regarding the question for the main reason of overqualification, only about one in ten immigrants indicated to be overqualified for their job due to a lack of German-language skills. One in four immigrants (24.9%) indicated that the reason for the poor match between their vocational qualification and their job requirements was that their qualification obtained abroad was not recognised. Roughly 40% indicated other reasons.


Author: Lisa Günther – Federal Statistical Office
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