The tightrope between prospects and prejudice

Astrid Prange 22.02.2019
Desperately seeking migrants? Teachers, policemen, tax officials – new Germans are in great demand, especially in the public sector. But despite better career opportunities, they continue to face significant prejudice.

“We are Hamburg. Are you in?” That’s the slogan Hamburg is using to advertise municipal jobs to migrants. Policemen, teachers, doctors, Muslim pastors, firefighters, tax officials and prison guards — the city is hoping to hire more employees with migrant backgrounds.
And it’s not just Hamburg that is making the running. Across Germany, private and public sectors alike are zeroing in on the country’s newest residents.
Rising education levels
That’s because migrants in Germany are getting better educational qualifications. In 2011, one-quarter of young migrants between the ages of 18 and 25 had completed their “Abitur,” or high school leaving certificate. By 2015, that figure had climbed to 33 percent. During that same period, the percentage of youth without a migrant background who had completed high school rose from 32 to 39 percent.
The numbers tell a similar story when it comes to higher education. In 2015, some 38 percent of people aged 35 or under with an immigrant background had completed vocational training, while 16 percent had completed a university degree. However, the proportion of migrants without any qualifications has remained at around 30 percent.
‘We can achieve something’
“We just have to look at our parents,” said Cemile Uruk, who teaches English and social studies at the Emschertal Vocational College in the western city of Herne. “They didn’t come to Germany for us to amount to nothing, but for us to achieve something.”
Cemile Uruk belongs to a network for teachers with immigrant backgrounds. She wants to be an example not just for her students, but for other Turkish-Germans. The network was founded by the North Rhine-Westphalian education ministry in 2007 to promote diversity in the classroom.
Germany’s other states have since followed suit, founding similar networks. And those networks are urgently needed, because there is significant progress to be made. In North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, 26 percent of students come from non-German families, yet only 5 percent of teachers do.
‘The state is counting on us’
In his book “Das Integrations Paradox”, Aladin El-Mafaalani repeatedly warns that the race to catch up professionally will not be an easy one. Migrant job-seekers not only struggle with ethnic discrimination and prejudice from the indigenous workforce, different migrant groups also pit themselves against each other
The situation is slightly better in the public sector. According to a survey by Germany’s Federal Institute for Population Research (BIB) and the Federal Statistics Office, Destatis, 15 percent of public employees in 2015 had a non-German background.
“Opening our institutions is extremely important,” integration researcher Aladin El-Mafaalani told Der Spiegel magazine. “For migrants, because they see that the state is counting on us.”
Yet it also has an impact on everyone else too. After all, a teacher with an immigrant background doesn’t just change the classroom, but the staffroom dynamic as well.
El-Mafaalani knows from first-hand experience. He was born in Germany to parents who immigrated from Syria. He currently works as a department head at North Rhine-Westphalia’s Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees and Integration in Dusseldorf, and has written a best-selling book on integration in Germany (“Das Integration Paradox”).
Persistent prejudices
However, El-Mafaalani is among the experts warning that achieving equality and integration in society will not be an easy task. Discrimination persists in Germany, not just between those with or without immigrant backgrounds, but also within different immigrant groups.
A lack of self-esteem, insufficient qualifications, mistrust, cultural differences and above all deeply-rooted prejudices can get in the way of immigrants getting off to a good start in the workforce. Many job applicants with a non-German background are simply never offered an interview.
According to a May 2018 study by the Berlin Social Sciences Centre (WZB), job applicants with an immigrant background faced “clear discrimination”, despite a shortage of skilled labour in the workforce.
Education not the only decider
The result, the WZB found, is that “while applicants with a German name receive positive feedback in 60 percent of all cases, only 51 percent of applications with an immigrant background do.”
“Diversity hasn’t reached everywhere and education alone doesn’t solve the problem,” the WZB’s Ruta Yemane, who authored the study, explained. “Prejudice and cultural preferences have more of an influence on discrimination than differing levels of qualification.”
Astrid Prange
© Deutsche Welle 2019