Ms Aydan Özoguz, Federal Minister of State for Migrants, Refugees and Integration, (far right) congratulates African Youth Education Awards recipients in 2016. The award recognizes among others young Africans doing well in German universities / © TopAfric Radio

Foreign students in Germany: prospects for staying on after graduation

Because of unfavourable demographic developments, Germany is in dire need of foreign skilled workers. To persuade them to choose Germany over other countries, the Federal Republic is even reviewing its almost institutionalised reservations vis-à-vis migrants and foreigners.

Migrants already living in Germany can get their professional certificates and degrees earned abroad recognised thanks to a special law, and the government is implementing the Blue Card, a residence title for specific purposes for highly skilled non-EU citizens which is an initiative of the EU.

But there is a third group of well-educated foreigners that Germany should be interested in keeping here: foreign students at German universities. Melanie Scheuenstuhl writes about the hurdles facing foreign students in the country and the conditions for their being allowed to stay on after their studies.

A recent conference at the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge; BAMF) addressed the growing discrepancy between the numbers of foreign students choosing Germany to get higher education and those who after graduating put their acquired knowledge into practice in another country.

It seems that foreign students would give Germany top grades for the standard of its universities but the worst grades for the possibilities for foreign graduates to find a job here afterwards.

James Mutua from Nairobi was a hard-working pupil. His parents showed through their own lives that when you work hard, you can make your dreams come true. Becoming an engineer was his dream from early on. He had the great fortune to get the rare opportunity to study engineering in Germany, the country which has a high reputation internationally for technology.

After five years of mastering the language, the different culture and the challenges of studying in Germany, James graduated with a remarkable final grade. He chose to go back to his native Kenya. Not so much because he wanted to give back to the country where he had grown up. James was tempted to actually gain some practical experience in Germany. But how to find a commensurate job and how long he could stay in Germany while looking for a job was not taught at university.

With all these questions in his head, he chose to go back first to Kenya and from there eventually move on to a country with clearer welcoming signs for highly skilled foreign workers.

James Mutua’s story is completely fictitious but it could be true. BAMF conducted a survey of foreign students in Germany and found that in 2005, about 236,000 foreigners were in Germany with a residence permit to study here. By September 2013, 70 per cent of them (about 165,000 people) were no longer eligible to hold this special residence title, meaning that most of them had completed their studies.

Of these 165,000 former students, 73,100 were no longer living in Germany. They are in the meantime lost to the German economy. The majority of the remaining 92,700, however, are in the country staying with a different type of residence title. This equals a rather promising quota of 56 per cent of foreign graduates settling down in Germany after studying here.

Yet the German economy needs many more of them and this number is just a snap-shot. It doesn’t say anything about how long those remaining want and are allowed to stay in their jobs. In fact, 6 per cent of them currently hold a residence permit to search for a commensurate job position. They don’t have one yet.

And this is one of the decisive hurdles for foreign graduates when they are about to make a decision where to head after their studies. These highly skilled non-EU foreigners need a residence permit to stay in Germany which they can get if they find a job. But according to the law, the job should be in the field of their studies and bring in a certain amount of income.

According to Maimouna Ouattara, member of the Federal Association of Foreign Students (Bundesverband ausländischer Studierender), the income precondition especially prevents graduates of social and cultural sciences from getting a residence permit.

One change in the regulation that the association welcomes concerns the time span granted to the graduates to seek a job. Instead of 12 months, the job-seekers now have 18 months to find an adequate position. However, finding a job can be difficult for both foreign and German graduates. When the foreign graduates don’t succeed within this time span, they lose their advantaged access to the German job market.

One possible way to shorten the search for the dream job could be to get in touch with possible employers through internship and part-time jobs while studying, says Ouattara. But then, foreigners generally have a harder time convincing human resources departments of their skills and value for a company.

Ouattara recommends visits, as early as possible, to the events organised by the universities to inform foreign students about career prospects. Since these offers vary starkly between the respective universities, she further recommends that the students who are considering remaining in Germany after graduating should become active themselves and use all the different information channels at their disposal to look for a job.

Since the lack of skilled workers has by now also been recognised by the German government, various websites by state agencies have sprung up like mushrooms and thus created a muddle of information rather than a comprehensive information network.

Apart from the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) at the respective universities and the Federal Association of Foreign Students, the International Placement Service (Zentrale Auslands und Fachvermittlung) of the Federal Employment Agency is another first contact to get information about rules and regulations for foreigners who want to make Germany their home and enrich this country with their professional skills.

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