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Pre-integration in the Western Balkans
From Albania to Montenegro – Pre-integration in the Western Balkans

Vorintegration im Westbalkan
© Goethe-Institut, Getty Images

For thirteen years, the Goethe-Institut has been preparing migrants specifically from Southeastern Europe for their migration to Germany. In 2015, a law came into force that made it easier for people from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Northern Macedonia and Serbia to work in Germany. How has immigration in the region developed during this time? And what distinguishes the pre-integration work here now?  

By Janna Degener-Storr

Counselling, informative events, remedial classes – in many locations around the world, the Goethe-Instituts offer programmes to prepare people for their migration to Germany. This also applies to the Western Balkans. The Goethe-Zentrum in Tirana, Albania, for example, provides advice to interested people on how to prepare for the language exams they need for a visa and holds events to inform people about how they can find an employer in this country. Their colleagues at the Goethe-Institut Bosnia and Herzegovina quickly switched back to in-person services in the summer of 2020 – taking the pandemic distancing rules into account – and focused on a new target group, the trades, with the project Handwerk bietet Zukunft in cooperation with the Federal Employment Agency. Project contributor Lejla Djelilovic has noticed that new questions and challenges have prevailed since then, citing two examples: “How does Bosnia being a COVID-19 risk area affect my entry into Germany?” and “Should I register for the language exam when I feel ready for it? Or should I wait a little longer because the language certificate is only valid for one year, but the waiting times for visa applications are often longer?”

Her colleague, Dr Nemanja Vlajkovic, who is responsible for pre-integration work in neighbouring Serbia and Montenegro, is currently enjoying great success, especially in Belgrade, with a new concept for a one-month course at A1 level offered free of charge to participants both face-to-face and online. “After the lockdowns, many learners had difficulties speaking, which was also reflected in the examination results,” he notes. “The course provides intensive practice in making a doctor’s appointment, ordering in a restaurant or having a conversation with co-workers.” In a survey, almost seventy per cent of participants say they find the topics covered in the course very relevant to their lives in Germany. More than seventy per cent absolutely agree that the course facilitated their initial orientation and integration in Germany. And almost all of them think that their German has improved during the course.
The course has been so well received that a corresponding offer has now also been developed for language level B1/B2 with a focus on professional German. In addition, the Goethe-Institut Belgrade offers an info workshop on “Learning German, getting to know Germany” and a crash course “Start Deutsch 1” for exam preparation held at the German House Montenegro. The A1 and B1 exams are also still very popular. The Goethe-Institut Skopje has developed a new internet portal that provides information for migrants from Northern Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania in the national languages. In a video series, immigrants will soon be informed by compatriots about life in Germany and the migration process.

The Western Balkans Arrangement: A new pathway to Germany

Naturally, anyone who wants to migrate to Germany to work needs a suitable residence permit. Migrants from the Western Balkans have a number of options. Academics can apply for a so-called EU Blue Card. In addition, they and persons with recognised vocational training can apply for a residence permit under the Skilled Workers Immigration Act. Since 2015, there has been a third option, the so-called Western Balkans Arrangement, which applies to these two groups and also to migrants without vocational training. The Western Balkans Arrangement is the only way to obtain a residence permit without proof of qualification. Migrants need a valid employment contract and the approval of the Federal Employment Agency. This makes the procedure attractive for employers as well as for migrants, especially if they are less qualified.

The Goethe-Institut is feeling the effects of the Western Balkans Arrangement in its pre-integration work at the various locations. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, many migrants circumvent having their professional qualifications recognised with the help of the Western Balkans Arrangement, says Lejla Djelilovic, explaining, “Anyone who wants to go to Germany via the Skilled Workers Immigration Act must have their professional training recognised. This not only takes a long time – often even longer than applying for a residence permit under the Western Balkans Arrangement – but is also often very difficult for migrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is not only because the translations and the comparative measures are complicated, but also because the vocational training, for example in the trades, often involves far less practical training here than in Germany. That is why many of our participants decide to go to Germany via the Western Balkans Arrangement.”

Creating prospects at home

The Western Balkans Arrangement is successful, but controversial. Many of the skilled workers who are welcome in Germany are also needed in their home countries. Their emigration may lead to bottlenecks there or exacerbate the situation, for example in the health sector. The Goethe-Instituts are trying to counteract this brain drain – in part with the STAYnet project, a network to support young people in the transition from school to work. Dr Petra Köppel-Meyer, head of language work with a regional mandate in Southeastern Europe, is responsible for pre-integration activities and explains, “We contribute to the success of mobility by providing reliable advice and information to people who are interested in migrating to Germany instead of recruiting skilled workers or advertising about life in Germany with false ideas. We help migrants to make well-informed decisions – and we also convey to employers in Germany that they should make an effort to find their potential workers, make them appealing offers and also support them in learning the German language. At the same time, with our STAYnet project, we contribute to young people also considering prospects in their home countries.”

Funded by:
Logo Asyl-, Migrations- und Integrationsfonds