Access to the labour market


Country Report: Access to the labour market Last updated: 06/04/23


Paula Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik and Marlene Stiller

Persons with refugee status and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection have unrestricted access to the labour market, including self-employment, under the same conditions as German citizens.[1] They are entitled to all supportive measures offered by the labour agency. This includes qualification offers and training programmes, but also costs which may result from the need to have professional qualifications recognised. There are some specialised training and qualification programmes for migrants from which refugees also benefit, like vocational language courses[2] or integration courses (see below Access to education).

On the Federal level, the BAMF coordinates several integration measures which are summarized as ‘Migration counselling measures for immigrated adults’ (Migrationsberatung für erwachsene Zuwanderer).[3] Next to educational courses (see Access to education) the programme also includes individual counselling services concerning family life, housing, health issues, education and labour. The counselling is in many cases provided in the mother tongue of the beneficiary or in a language the person can understand. The counselling service is complemented by a programme for young adults under 27 which is specifically tailored to their needs e.g. career planning and youth issues. Since 2019 the service is also provided online through an application which is available in German, Russian, English and Arabic. The counselling measures are available for foreigners in general but can be adopted to the needs of beneficiaries of international protection.[4] For 2023 the Federal government decided to spend in total 81,5 million € for the ‘Migration counselling measures for immigrated adults’.[5]

Some Federal States set up additional integration programmes or fund project of private initiatives which aim at the integration of migrants. North Rhine-Westphalia introduced in 2021 the ‘Act to support social participation and integration in North Rhine-Westphalia’ (Gesetz zur Förderung der gesellschaftlichen Teilhabe und Integration in Nordrhein-Westfalen) by which the state’s government commits itself to invest at least 130,000€ per year on integration programmes.[6] For the implementation the state introduced ‘municipal centres of integration’ (Kommunale Integrationszentren) which shall coordinate and conceptualise integration programmes tailored to the needs and existing private initiatives in the municipalities. As for the Federal programmes, the services are open to migrants in general, but some programmes are specifically tailored to beneficiaries of international protection and people with a ‘tolerated stay’ (Duldung).[7] Berlin already introduced a similar Act in 2010 which was though completely revised in 2021. The ‘Act to support participation in the migration society’ (Gesetz zur Förderung der Partizipation in der Migrationsgesellschaft) forsees likewise to support integration programmes but additionally focuses on the diversitfication of the administration in Berlin.[8]

Recognition of professional qualifications has been often described as a major practical obstacle for access to the labour market. This does not only affect refugees but other immigrants as well.

The main reasons identified are the administrative hurdles since the procedure is highly formalised. The first barrier is that depending on which qualification should be recognised foreigners need to approach different authorities. Secondly, foreigners need to understand whether the recognition of their qualification is mandatory. The recognition is mandatory for third country nationals and independently from the nationality for so called ‘reglemented labour’ (reglementierte Berufe) e.g. teachers, engeneers, health practitioners.[9] Moreover the recognition usually requires certificates and additional documents. In case foreigners cannot provide these documents, they need to undergo additional tests and contact a counselling person.[10]

In addition to the bureaucratic barriers, the recognitions scheme works largely to the disadvantage of refugee women as their qualifications from the country of origin often do not match the formal requirements for recognitions under German Law.[11] If recognitions take place there is a highly positive effect on the income and the formal level of the labour market involvement of migrants in general and persons granted a protection status in particular.[12] Studies show a significant gender gap in access to the labour market, employment levels as well as remuneration that is far greater than the ‘usual’ gender pay gap in Germany.[13] The German government therefore has set up an information portal offering advice on the necessary procedures (‘Recognition in Germany‘). However, the recognition of qualifications remains challenging despite its clear positive effects on integration into the labour market as well as integration more generally.[14]

Available official statistics on unemployment only distinguish between nationalities, but not between residence statuses of persons concerned. Therefore, it is not possible to determine how many beneficiaries of international protection have successfully integrated into the labour market.

The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the integration of (former) asylum seekers into the labour market in German, especially during the first lockdown between March and June 2020 according to a study published in May 2021.[15] Unemployment rates rose more significantly in this group than in other groups of workers. The study explains this effect by the nature of employment of (former) asylum seekers: These persons were often employed in areas of the labour market that were most significantly hit by the pandemic and where less protection measures or home office possibilities were available. Moreover, unemployment rates rose more significantly than labour market inclusion diminished. This effect was attributed by the study to the suspension, discontinuation and interruption of integration and qualification measures. This specific setup also led to the effect that after the first lockdown in summer 2020 employment rates rose significantly faster than for other groups. In the second lockdown since November 2020 the same effect was visible but they were less significant than between March and June 2020.[16]

Research on labour market integration of refugees over the last decade points to a relatively successful integration in the long run: a ‘brief analysis’ on the integration of refugees into the labour market was published in February 2020. It is based on the ‘IAB-BAMF-SOEP-survey’, a long-term study on the living conditions of persons who have come to Germany as asylum seekers between 2013 and 2016.[17] The main conclusions of the study include the following:

  • About 50% of the persons surveyed found employment within five years of their arrival, which implies that integration into the labour market is taking place faster in comparison to earlier years.
  • 60% of the persons surveyed were either in employment or were attending an educational institution or were taking part in qualification or integration measures in the second half of 2018. The major part of the remaining 40% were actively seeking a job or were on maternity/parental leave.
  • Of persons surveyed who were in employment, 44% had jobs categorised as ‘unskilled labour’ while 52% had jobs which required a certain qualification. 5% were in employment characterised as ‘specialised’ or ‘highly specialised’ occupations. Because of the comparably high number of unskilled occupations, the income of persons surveyed was considerably lower than the average income of persons who were born in Germany (between 54 and 74%, depending on the age group).

It has to be noted that this study does not distinguish between the residence status of the persons surveyed. Therefore, it is not clear how many of the persons surveyed have been granted protection status. Nevertheless, the analysis provides at least an indication for the situation of persons with protection status, since a high percentage of persons who have arrived as asylum seekers between 2013 and 2016 have been granted protection.

These findings have been confirmed by the final report on this long-term survey published in November 2020.[18] The study points to the positive developments triggered through specific integration measures aiming at labour market integration and show that inclusion into the formal labour market is likely to take place after three to five years of stay. Moreover, the study shows a significant effect of the duration of asylum procedures on the labour market integration: If an asylum procedure is prolonged by six months (in comparison to the regular duration of such procedures) the chances of labour market integration is diminished by 11%. A positive outcome of the procedure enhances the chances by 30% with the stable residence status being the most influential factor for employment of (former) asylum seekers.[19] The residence requirement of Section 12a of the Residence Act on the other hand has a detrimental effect on labour market integration of refugees even though its purpose was to enhance integration.[20]




[1] Section 25(2) Residence Act.

[2] See BAMF, ‘German for professional purposes, 7 June 2021, available in German at

[3] Federal Ministry of Interior, Migrationsberatung für erwachsene Zuwanderer, available in German at:

[4] BAMF, Integrationsangebote im Überblick, available at:

[5] Filiz Polat, Budgeterhöhung für die Migrationsberatungen für erwachsene Einwanderinnen und Einwanderer, Newsletter Flucht, 28 September 2022.

[6] North Rhine-Westphalia, Gesetz zur Förderung der gesellschaftlichen Teilhabe und Integration in Nordrhein-Westfalen (Teilhabe- und Integrationsgesetz – TIntG), 25 November 2021, lastly amended 1 January 2022, available in German at:

[7] See e.g. Kommunales Integrationszentrum Köln, Durchstarten in Ausbildung und Arbeit, available in German at:

[8] Gesetz zur Förderung der Partizipation in der Migrationsgesellschaft des Landes Berlin (Partizipationsgesetz – PartMigG) 5 July 2021, lastly amended 2 November 2022, available in German at:

[9] All labour where the scope of practice is defined by law is counted as ‚reglemented labour‘.

[10] On the procedure of recognition of qualifications, see: Bundesagentur für Arbeit, Anerkennung von Abschluss und Zeugnis, available in German at:

[11] See Kosyakova, Yuliya; Gundacker, Lidwina; Salikutluk, Zerrin; Trübswetter, Parvati (2021): Arbeitsmarktintegration in Deutschland: Geflüchtete Frauen müssen viele Hindernisse überwinden. (IAB-Kurzbericht, 08/2021), Nuremberg.

[12] Brücker, Herbert; Glitz, Albrecht; Lerche, Adrian; Romiti, Agnese (2021): Occupational recognition and immigrant labor market outcomes. In: Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 39, No. 2, S. 1-15.

[13]See in particular: See Kosyakova, Yuliya; Gundacker, Lidwina; Salikutluk, Zerrin; Trübswetter, Parvati (2021): Arbeitsmarktintegration in Deutschland: Geflüchtete Frauen müssen viele Hindernisse überwinden. (IAB-Kurzbericht, 08/2021), Nuremberg.

[14] See on these effects: Brücker, Herbert; Glitz, Albrecht; Lerche, Adrian; Romiti, Agnese (2021): Occupational recognition and immigrant labor market outcomes. In: Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 39, No. 2, S. 1-15.

[15] Brücker, Herbert; Gundacker, Lidwina; Hauptmann, Andreas; Jaschke, Philipp (2021): Die Arbeitsmarktwirkungen der COVID-19-Pandemie auf Geflüchtete und andere Migrantinnen und Migranten. (IAB-Forschungsbericht, 05/2021), Nuremberg.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Herbert Brücker, Yuliya Kosyakova and Eric Schuß – Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung, Fünf Jahre seit der Fluchtmigration 2015: Integration in Arbeitsmarkt und Bildungssystem macht weitere Fortschritte, IAB-Kurzbericht 4/2020, 4 February 2020, available in German at:

[18] Brücker, Herbert; Fendel, Tanja; Guichard, Lucas; Gundacker, Lidwina; Jaschke, Philipp; Keita, Sekou; Kosyakova, Yuliya; Vallizadeh, Ehsan (2020): Fünf Jahre ‘Wir schaffen das’ – Eine Bilanz aus der Perspektive des Arbeitsmarktes. (IAB-Forschungsbericht, 11/2020), Nuremberg. 

[19] Ibid. 24 ff.

[20] Brücker, Herbert; Hauptmann, Andreas; Jaschke, Philipp (2020): Beschränkungen der Wohnortwahl für anerkannte Geflüchtete: Wohnsitzauflagen reduzieren die Chancen auf Arbeitsmarktintegration. (IAB-Kurzbericht, 03/2020), Nuremberg.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation