Over-qualified immigrants outnumber over-qualified natives

Experts point to meager language skills, misunderstandings and discrimination as causes

Are you over-qualified for your current job? Your chances of being so are greater if you are an immigrant, according to a recently-released study from the European CommissionÂ’s statistical bureau Eurostat.

In Denmark, 24 percent of immigrants are over-qualified for their jobs, whereas just 14 percent of people with traditional Danish backgrounds are.

Immigrants were also three times as likely as native-born Danes to be unemployed, according to the study. Albeit, unemployment rates for both groups were low – just two and six percent, respectively – in 2008, the year statistics for the study were gathered.

The figures come from the 2008 European Labour Force Survey and pertain to native- and foreign-born workers aged 25-54 throughout the 27 EU states.

People were considered ‘over-qualified’ if they had more education or experience than their current jobs required.

Despite the significant gap, immigrants in Denmark still fared better than the EU average, according to the study. Across the 27 EU countries, more than one-third of foreign-born workers were over-qualified versus just one-fifth of the native populations’ workers.

Moreover, Denmark also appeared to be a little ahead of its Nordic neighbours at utilising the skills and knowledge of immigrants, the study showed. Whereas Denmark showed a ten percentage point difference in over-qualified immigrants versus natives, point differences were even higher in Sweden (20 points), Norway (17 points), and Finland (12 points).

Chantal Pohl Nielsen, a senior researcher at AKF, a Danish research institute specialising in public management issues, said EurostatÂ’s report confirmed her observations.

“That’s certainly the tendency we’ve seen from earlier studies,” Nielsen, an expert in immigration and the Danish labour market, told Politiken newspaper. “More immigrants than Danes work at jobs that they are actually, from a formal standpoint, over-qualified for.”

Nielsen proposed a few possible reasons for the discrepancy. One of them could be that Danish employers fail to understand the significance of immigrantsÂ’ foreign educations and experience, and therefore fail to properly evaluate their CVs.

Educations from non-Western countries, where school systems are significantly different than the Danish system, were most likely to be misunderstood and undervalued, she said.

Nielsen emphasised that this meant it was especially important for immigrants in Denmark to get their foreign degrees recognised and translated into Danish terms at Styrelsen for Universiteter og Internationalisering.

She suggested that Danish employers also needed to become more open and flexible to fully exploit the skills and expertise that immigrants bring to Denmark.

Vibeke Jacobsen, who studies immigration issues for the national social research centre, SFI, had another explanation for the employment gap: poor Danish language skills and a limited Danish network.

“You have a harder time getting a job if you can’t speak and write fluent Danish. That’s obvious. On top of that, it’s difficult to find the right job in Denmark, if you don’t have a strong network here,” Jacobsen told Politiken.

She added that discrimination might also play into it.

“Studies have shown that foreigners are discriminated against in the Danish job market. That could be part of the reason. If that’s so, then immigrants could very well be forced to look for jobs that are below their qualifications.