Swiss social aid administrators are calling on the government to act in the face of increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers who must be integrated into the job market. They warn of a “catastrophic” social and financial situation if the status quo continues.
It would be up to lawmakers to approve more money and a structured plan to let foreigners escaping conflicts abroad to get job training more quickly. Until recently, asylum seekers often waited years for a decision on whether they could stay in Switzerland, stalling their ability to learn a new trade.
A change in law last year reduced the waiting time, but experts say there are not many coordinated job training programmes available for them. The Swiss government has been leaving it up to cantons to organize such programmes. Social aid workers say that is inadequate.
“Doing nothing will get very expensive,” said Therese Frösch, co-president of the Swiss Conference on Social Aid (SKOS), an association of social aid workers, while presenting a 10-point plan to address job integration for refugees in Bern on Friday.
The plan calls on the government and cantons to provide CHF100 million ($99 million) in additional funding for integrating asylum seekers and refugees into the workforce. It involves developing more language and job-training programmes, business-sector involvement and job coaching. Proponents also want increased federal and cantonal funding and less red tape in terms of fees and age limits.
The government now gives cantons about CHF6,000 per asylum seeker. Felix Wolffers, head of the city of Bern’s social aid services, said on Friday that CHF20,000 to 25,000 is needed to prepare an asylum seeker for the workplace. He called it a good investment because one year of social aid dependency costs the same amount.¨
“We’re heading for a catastrophe if we don’t act. It’s already five minutes after midnight, and time is running out,” he said.
Statistics show that just under half of recognised refugees and a quarter of those temporarily admitted to the country have a job after 10 years spent in Switzerland, with the rest reliant on social aid money. Canton Graubünden has had the most success with training refugees and asylum seekers for the workforce, with more than 40% integrated into the job market after seven years in large part due to its job coaching programme.