Stephanie Bindzus

Parliamentary Breakfast on International Youth Work addresses removal of mobility barriers

Cuts in social benefits for young people with disabilities during long-term stays abroad, nearly insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles when applying for visas – in spite of improved overall conditions, international youth exchanges still face numerous challenges. On 21 May in Berlin, heads of bilateral youth offices and coordination centres, IJAB and JUGEND für Europa, and members of the German Bundestag discussed existing obstacles and possible solutions.

Caren Marks, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Family Affairs, also took part in the discussion.
Caren Marks, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Family Affairs, also took part in the discussion. BildImage: David Ausserhofer

The subject of the Parliamentary Breakfast attracted considerable interest: over 20 members of the Bundestag and their staff from all parliamentary groups and various committees accepted the invitation to attend the event. Caren Marks, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Family Affairs, also took part in the discussion.

In his introduction, Markus Ingenlath, Secretary-General of the Franco-German Youth Office, highlighted the key ideas of international youth work: to enable all young persons in Germany to gain international learning and mobility experience, get to know people and cultures outside Germany, overcome their own personal boundaries and language barriers and thus develop understanding and tolerance. He stressed the need to include young people without an upper secondary level school education, those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, young members of the immigrant community, and individuals with personal handicaps. This growth in target groups, however, means that existing mobility obstacles will become more pronounced and new mobility hurdles will emerge. Ingenlath outlined principle problems and possible solutions. In the course of the discussion, Thomas Hoffmann, Managing Director of the Foundation for German-Russian Youth Exchange, Marie-Luise Dreber, Director of IJAB – International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany, and Hans-Georg Wicke, Head of JUGEND für Europa, elucidated the various subjects in greater detail, suggested possible solutions and appealed to members of the Bundestag with specific demands.

Disadvantages in social legislation

Despite the aim to include as many young people from socially disadvantaged or immigrant backgrounds in exchanges as possible, social legislation contains a series of hurdles, such as the discontinuation of benefits under the terms of the SGB (German Social Code). For example, with regard to social assistance benefits, SGB XII (§ 24) states that "Germans who are ordinarily resident abroad receive no benefits". As a consequence, long-term programmes such as educational or work-related stays abroad, for example voluntary services, au-pair jobs or workcamp programmes, are affected by the discontinuation of benefits. In other words: young people have to be able to afford such stays abroad!

There are similar examples in SGB II and SGB III (unemployment and housing benefits), and in SGB IX and XI, which are especially bitter for young people with personal handicaps or disabilities. For instance, people with disabilities have no legal right to non-cash benefits during a stay abroad; such services are provided at the discretion of the respective administrative body.

What is needed here is a simple, understandable and flexible solution to guarantee the provision of social benefits during participation in mobility programmes. This could be achieved, for example, if the programmes in question were recognised as educational measures. The activities promoted by the European Social Fund prove that this is possible. They are considered "measures that promote employability" and do not rule out social benefits even during longer stays abroad.

Visa hurdles

An increasing number of problems are arising in connection with visa applications. The costs, lengthy procedures, the Visa Information System (VIS) and the collection of biometric data for visas for the Schengen region make it difficult for young people from non-EU states to take part in youth exchanges in Germany or other countries in the Schengen area. Providing biometric data in countries such as Russia or Kazakhstan often involves costly flights or journeys lasting several days to get to the respective consulates.

Exchange programmes with participants from Eastern Europe or African countries are impacted most significantly by such regulations. Based on their own experiences, the participating organisations described the visa problems of young people from the Ukraine, Algeria and East Anatolia, where in some cases programmes could not take place as a result. Stricter visa regulations promote the development of an artificial EU enclave in youth exchanges that even jeopardises the existence of long-term youth policy partnerships with non-EU states. This means that youth exchanges as a bridge between young generations in different cultures, societies and lifestyles can only function to a limited degree because the organisation of youth exchange projects will be focusing more and more on EU states.

The main demands in this context are more generous exemptions from VIS regulations for publicly supported international youth exchange programmes, a reduction in waiting times and uniform exchange-promoting regulations at German diplomatic missions abroad and immigration offices in Germany. Moreover, all young people in Germany with a foreign passport should be able to participate in all exchange programmes, irrespective of their residency status, in order to avoid educational disadvantages.

Inquiries and discussions showed an interest in further recommendations and concrete proposals to create a "positive list", especially relating to statutory exemptions.

Better coordination and cooperation

Discussions with members of the Bundestag also highlighted the fact that unclear responsibilities and interfaces, lack of cross-sectoral programmes, agreements and administrative processes can lead to difficulties. Although the Foreign Office promotes youth exchanges with transition countries in North Africa, for example, exchanges are greatly impeded by rigid visa regulations with these countries. Similar examples also exist in social legislation. For instance, one physically disabled youth with care needs was ultimately unable to participate in a youth exchange programme because the different administrative bodies failed to agree on time who was responsible for approving care services.
Parliamentary State Secretary Caren Marks referred to the existing cooperation between various departments and a workshop scheduled to take place in June. At this event organised by the Working Group International mobil zum Beruf (Internationally mobile: Routes to profession and work), participants will examine interfaces in working areas that exist in codes on social law (e.g. between employment agencies and youth offices), to determine related problems and find possible solutions.

Comprehensive background information on existing problems, proposed solutions and recommendations for political representatives is available here:

The Parliamentary Breakfast on International Youth Work was hosted jointly by ConAct – Coordination Office for German-Israeli Youth Exchange, the Franco-German Youth Office, the German-Polish Youth Office, IJAB – International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany, JUGEND für Europa, Tandem - Coordination Office for German-Czech Youth Exchanges and the Foundation for German-Russian Youth Exchange.

Comments ( 0 )

Write a comment

still 1000 characters

Begleiten Sie uns

RSS-Feed abonnieren IJAB auf Facebook IJAB-Alumni-Gruppe auf Facebook IJAB auf Twitter IJAB auf YouTube