Labor market: Why are foreign workers leaving Germany?

Raymund Guevara worked as a nurse in a hospital in Lower Saxony for five years.

Labor market: Why are foreign workers leaving Germany?

Raymund Guevara worked as a nurse in a hospital in Lower Saxony for five years. The 37-year-old Filipino has been living with his wife in Florida, USA, since January. "We wanted to fulfill our dream," he says on the phone. Buying a house was very difficult in Germany, if only because of the loans. In Florida he received state support as a nurse. Getting a driver's license or a residence permit is also more complicated in Germany, as is the language. "In the US we have more opportunities and life is more comfortable."

Nurses like Guevara are desperately needed in Germany. But not just them: According to an analysis by the Federal Employment Agency, there is a shortage of skilled workers in every sixth profession. This is where the reform of the immigration law for skilled workers by the traffic light coalition comes into play. It is intended to make it easier for workers from abroad to come to Germany. But they don't just have to come, they also have to want to stay - at least for a while.

Mobility is increasing thanks to cheap means of transport and communication technology, says Herbert Brücker from the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research in Nuremberg. "Temporary migration is increasing." An example of this is Raymund Guevara. In 2018 he came to Germany. Five years later, he and his wife had no problem leaving it all behind and starting a new life in Florida. But how do you get people to stay? In order to answer that, you also have to know the reasons why workers are leaving Germany again.

The Tübingen Institute for Applied Economic Research interviewed almost 1,900 people on Facebook on behalf of the Federal Employment Agency. The result: Many workers from abroad are turning their backs on Germany, primarily for residence and professional reasons, such as the end of a temporary job or because the professional qualification was not recognised.

"But it also has to do with life here," says study director Bernhard Boockmann. Two out of three highly qualified specialists from non-European countries declared that they had experienced discrimination because of their origin. "In my view, this should be taken seriously," says Boockmann. "Any single reason can be the one that breaks the camel's back." So the one that gets people to leave the country. According to the expert, the study is not representative because it is a preliminary study for a larger investigation. Nevertheless, they give important clues.

The Hamburg business psychologist Grace Lugert-Jose can confirm that foreign workers do not always feel welcome. She was born in the Philippines and has been living in Germany for more than 20 years. She uses her own experience to advise hospitals and care facilities on the integration of international specialists. Last year, she asked more than 100 Filipino nurses via social media how satisfied they were with their job. According to her, many stated that they did not feel valued and that they lacked the recognition of their professional qualifications.

Lugert-Jose says that without asking, about a fifth reported having experienced discrimination and racism. "For example, insults and condescending behavior because you don't speak perfect German yet." However, cultural differences often caused misunderstandings. She has noticed that this has now also reached employers. Integration officers and intercultural training should help with the arrival and sensitize old and new employees to differences.

Alexander Kritikos from the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin also confirms that some companies are already doing a lot. Nevertheless, all companies should be willing to invest more. "It starts with trivial things like carpooling. That can break the ice."

According to economics professor Jutta Rump from the Ludwigshafen University of Economics and Society, that alone is not enough. "Nevertheless, you're alone again at Christmas or birthdays." Loneliness and homesickness played a major role. For the first few years, there is therefore a need not only for an accompanying program in the company, but also privately. "Breaking down the hurdles so that people stay is a social issue. It also has to do with the people in the area."

The overall living conditions in Germany are decisive, says Brücker. "Bottlenecks in childcare affect everyone, but migrants more. And are our schools so inclusive that migrant children have equal opportunities?". Social housing in urban centers must also be strengthened. Because if migrants pay a lot for apartments, the wage advantage compared to other countries is lost. "You have to think about migration in everything you do," says Brücker.

None of this can be changed quickly and can only help foreign workers stay here for a longer period of time or permanently. In the end there are very individual reasons why someone leaves, says Brücker. For example, a different life plan, disappointed expectations or too little income. "It is important to give people the opportunity and the feeling that they can come back if there are suitable jobs in Germany," says DIW expert Kritikos. In the case of Raymund Guevara, that's certainly not out of the question. "Germany is a wonderful country," he says. "And we miss our friends. Maybe we'll come back sometime when we've saved enough money."