Rejected 800 instances: The German dream of a overseas graduate shattered when COVID met jobs

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© Reuters. Syrian master mechanical engineer Abdul Kader Tizini in Aachen

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From Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) – When Abdul Kader Tizini completed a master's degree in mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen, one of Germany's leading technical universities, he thought it would only be a few weeks before he got his dream job.

A little more than a month later, the coronavirus spread to Germany and stopped a decade-long employment boom.

Now, around 800 applications and 80 interviews later, the 29-year-old Syrian is still looking for work.

Even before the pandemic, being a foreigner was a disadvantage in finding work in Europe's largest economy. It has become more of an obstacle, now there are fewer vacancies, said Tizini.

"Companies think: 'With a foreigner we have to explain the idea twice, with a local only once,'" he told Reuters.

The cessation of freezes and layoffs at thousands of German companies means foreign graduates like Tizini face stiff competition from domestic graduates and unemployed professionals.

In contrast to citizens of the German and European Union, who are entitled to unemployment benefits and coronavirus aid, many foreign graduates are not qualified.

Hundreds of thousands of international students have been drawn to Germany in the past decade, which has been promoted by a serious, but almost free university system and good job prospects after graduation.

The number of international students in Germany rose by around 70% between 2009 and 2019, as data from the Federal Statistical Office show.

LANGUAGE, CULTURAL BARRIERS

Anja Robert, career advisor at RWTH Aachen University, said it was more difficult for international students to find work in Germany than for native Germans.

The demand for counseling sessions from her team and for psychological support has increased since March when Germany was first locked against the pandemic, she said.

"In such uncertain times, people tend to be more secure and rely on established language skills, cultural traits and understanding."

The unemployment rate in Germany rose from 5% in the previous months to up to 6.4% after the first lock. In January of this year it was 6%.

The effects of the pandemic on the German labor market were mitigated by the government's short-time working program, which enables employers to reduce working hours during an economic downturn. But it also makes adjustment more difficult.

Companies taking part in the program can, in exceptional cases, hire employees if they have compelling reason, said Ludwig Christian, a spokesman for the Federal Labor Office.

Between April 2020 and January this year, the number of new jobs in Germany fell by 430,000 or 26% compared to the previous year, according to data from the employment office.

DIGITAL NETWORK

Another challenge for international students is a weaker professional and social network, which is reinforced by job fairs and networking events that have been canceled or put online in the wake of the pandemic.

"Digital networking is just more difficult, especially if you're from another country and don't know how networking works here," said Jana Koehler, a Berlin-based international recruiter.

Two lockdowns in the spring and winter last year also closed restaurants and retailers, which means thousands fewer part-time jobs that students fill to support themselves financially.

Last April, the federal government included foreigners in an interest-free loan program for students. However, graduates are not eligible.

A prerequisite for foreign graduates to have access to unemployment benefits is also that they have lived in Germany for five years, which means that many Master’s graduates lose.

Tizini has survived monthly transfers from his brother.

After so much time and more than 10,000 euros to study in Germany, returning to Syria was not an option.

"There is no other way to live than to wait for the help of others. I give everything I can, but everything for free."

($ 1 = 0.83 euros)

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