Immigration to Germany 'Better Qualified than the Domestic Population'

In recent years, Germany has begun attracting large numbers of highly qualified immigrants. Demographics expert Reiner Klingholz says that the development could be vital to the country's future, despite ongoing problems with integration.
Integration remains a problem in Germany, but the county is now attracting highly qualified immigrants.

Integration remains a problem in Germany, but the county is now attracting highly qualified immigrants.

Foto: Henning Kaiser/ dpa

SPIEGEL: Mr. Klingholz, in your study "New Potential," which was presented on Tuesday, you point to a paradox: Even as Germany becomes a country of immigration, many problems relating to integration remain unsolved.

Klingholz: German companies are now attracting immigrants who are, on average, better qualified than the domestic population. In 2010, more than a third of the immigrants from Southern Europe were university graduates. They are making significant contributions to the good state of our economy. Those who came to Germany as guest workers in past decades generally had few qualifications. That means that today, these people frequently have poorly paid jobs, no work at all or low pensions. In addition, their children are often educationally disadvantaged. Only one in four children of Turkish immigrants graduates with a diploma from a university prep high school (eds. note: Gymnasium). Among children of native parents, the rate is 43 percent.

SPIEGEL: Why do children and grandchildren of Turkish immigrants have such a difficult time in school and on the labor market?

Klingholz: Across the entire German population, the educational level of the parents has an immense influence on their children's success in school. As such, it is no surprise that children of Turkish guest-worker  families are among those that have the most difficulties. In addition, such households have often had negative experiences when it comes to integration. They are discriminated against on the job market due to their backgrounds, even if they have the necessary qualifications. The result is often the attitude: Even with more education we won't be able to climb the social ladder.

SPIEGEL: Just recently, thousands of Turkish-Germans feted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Cologne. Is that a sign that they still don't feel totally at home in Germany?

Klingholz: There are a variety of reasons for the cheering. People of Turkish backgrounds from all social strata took part. But those here who have limited opportunities and don't feel accepted certainly yearn for strength and their homeland. For these people, Erdogan represents an economically successful and strong Turkey, even if there are significant problems there in reality.

SPIEGEL: How could integration be made more successful for immigrants from lower social classes?

Klingholz: Children should be put in German-speaking daycare at an early age. Everything that can't be offered at home must be provided by public early childhood education. And they need positive examples. Young immigrants have to be shown that people from their group can climb the ladder, but that personal initiative is necessary. Even someone as good as (German professional football star) Mesut Özil can't get to where he is without effort.

SPIEGEL: Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is proud of having taken steps toward easing rules on dual citizenship. With good reason?

Klingholz: The draft law is sensible because it allows children born in Germany to foreign parents to maintain both citizenships after a few years. For immigrants, though, dual citizenship is only reserved for people from certain countries -- EU member states, for example. That is incomprehensible.

SPIEGEL: Currently, questions pertaining to integration are dealt with by the Interior Ministry. Does that make sense?

Klingholz: Questions related to domestic security play a large role at the Interior Ministry. But with immigration, the primary focus is on German companies' needs for qualified workers. As such, the Economics Ministry would seem to be a better home for the issue.

SPIEGEL: Germans have a great fear of poverty immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Klingholz: And yet, a larger than average number of highly qualified people come from Eastern Europe, like doctors and engineers. In 2010, for example, more than 40 percent of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants between the ages of 30 and 64 held university degrees. Many of the poorly qualified people who come from these countries are seasonal workers. There is a need for both groups on the labor market. There are, of course, always those immigrants who burden the social welfare system. The unemployment rate for Romanians and Bulgarians in Germany in 2010 was 10 percent.

SPIEGEL: According to your study, Germany is dependent on immigration.

Klingholz: Baby-boomers, those born in years when childbirths were up, are now approaching retirement age. Around the year 2030, twice as many people will retire annually as the number of young people entering the labor market. Neither will companies be able to survive without immigration nor will it be possible to finance social welfare systems.

SPIEGEL: Can immigration put a stop to the significant demographic changes that are taking place?

Klingholz: No, but it can cushion the blow. It is true that immigrants tend to be between the ages of 20 and 30 when they arrive and they tend to have slightly more children on average than natives -- they make the entire population younger. But they get older too, and the birthrate among immigrant groups tends to drop to the low rate present here within one generation.

Translated from the German by Charles Hawley
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