What After Migrating to Germany? Experiences from Kosovar Nurses

Many nurses left Kosovo for better working conditions in Germany, but face a different reality in their new homes. Prishtina Insight brings the stories of some of these nurses.

Zamira Cerkini, a 27-year-old nurse, embraced the prospect of a better life in Germany but now finds herself waking up at 5 a.m. to treat her first patient at 6 a.m. Working in three shifts—morning, afternoon, and night—has become her new norm since leaving Kosovo five years ago, and adjusting to it has been tough.

Zamira completed her nursing education at the Elena Gjika high school in her hometown of Ferizaj. The difficulties in finding employment in Kosovo’s public hospitals drove Zamira to consider emigrating to Germany. 

“If you don’t have [family] connections, then it is practically impossible to find a job in the public hospitals”, she says. 

Germany offered a recruitment program for individuals with her qualifications, and she was accepted immediately. Settled in Bonn, the former government city, she enjoys a diverse community of open-minded individuals from various nations and backgrounds.

Living in Germany, especially in larger cities with hospital job opportunities, can be expensive. While nurses can earn around 3000 euros per month in Germany, their counterparts in Kosovo make merely 500 Euros, which pales in comparison.

However, the higher costs of rent, groceries, and utilities in Germany offset the financial gains. Conversely, some nurses in high-price regions like Munich or Berlin need a second job, particularly those still in education with lower incomes, to manage living expenses.

Qendresa Sopaj’s story exemplifies the search for a better future. Born in Traunstein, Germany, to parents who fled the war in Kosovo, she returned to Germany to pursue a nursing career at the age of 23. Initially working in a call center, she eventually enrolled in a three-year nursing training program at the Rotkreuzklinik in Munich. 

Though she received only €900 in her first year, Qendresa managed her living expenses with a part-time job, earning an additional €420 per month. Now fully trained, she earns €3,000 monthly, allowing her to live a reasonably comfortable life. However, rising inflation and discussion of salary rate increases leave some nurses wishing for higher pay.

Language barriers during training pose another challenge, especially when it comes to understanding technical terms related to human anatomy. Liridona Hyseni, who graduated as a nurse in Germany at 29 years old, struggled with language comprehension and her teachers’ understanding of her questions. Although she faced difficulty understanding medical terms, her perseverance led her to succeed and find employment at the Rotkreuz clinic in Munich.

The differences between nursing in Germany and Kosovo extend beyond language barriers. German nurses have more significant responsibilities, including patient examinations, vital measurements, medication preparation, administering infusions, and even drawing blood when necessary. They closely collaborate with doctors and handle multiple duties with care.

For Kosovars, Germany’s demand for German-speaking nurses presents a unique opportunity for emigration. Over the past decade, the number of Kosovars leaving the country has increased to approximately 30,000 individuals annually. Unfortunately, this emigration trend poses challenges for Kosovo, particularly in the health sector, and requires attention to retain skilled workers within the country.

While Germany offers improved living conditions, health insurance, and higher salaries, the emotional toll of being away from home and family can be significant. Each person’s ability to cope with such sacrifices varies, and despite financial gains, not everyone finds it easy to be far from home.

Illustration for Prishtina Insight: Diellza Gojani

Bigger Salary, Bigger Responsibility

In comparison to the nursing duties in Kosovo, nurses in Germany face a greater range of responsibilities.

Qendresa Sopaj explains, “we have to examine the patients, carry out vital measurements, prepare medications, administer infusions, and in some cases, we also need to draw blood, both before and after operations. We must be diligent and careful at all times.” 

Additionally, she emphasizes that nurses in Germany hold significant responsibility for their patient group and maintain close communication with doctors, ensuring they never take any action without the doctors’ knowledge. 

Qendresa Sopaj recognizes from her training that nursing in Germany is deeply rooted in the country’s history, involving a comprehensive examination of patients, not just providing infusions and post-operation care. She contrasts this with the situation in Kosovo, where patients’ relatives often take care of them due to the lack of sufficient nursing staff.

Germany’s requirement for nurses who speak German serves as the entry ticket for Kosovars seeking opportunities in the country. According to the Kosovar Statistical Agency, KSA, approximately ten years ago, around 15,000 to 20,000 Kosovars left the country annually. In recent years, this number has continued to rise, with an estimated emigration of 30,000 people per year, possibly even higher unofficially.

On February 6, a new salary law was voted in the Kosovar Assembly, which sets nurses’ wages at €588 gross per month in the future. Though this is a decent salary in comparison to doctors, who earn €777 but require years of study, it still pales in comparison to the German starting salary of around €2,400. Moreover, German nurses have the potential for a wage increase within 10 years, projected to reach around €3,600 gross.

In Kosovo, around 3,000 nursing graduates vie for only around 150 available positions, while in Germany, there is a fierce competition for these skilled professionals. Nursing staff undergo education at 10 universities in Kosovo, like Zamira Cerkini, who now works in Germany. Zamira highlights the opportunity her three-year education in Kosovo provided her to work in Germany.

Kosovo’s history of political developments and war has led to it being regarded as a classic emigration country. Many young people sought refuge in Germany or Switzerland during the turmoil of war, which has contributed to their familiarity with the German language. 

This linguistic advantage now aids Kosovars in emigrating to German-speaking countries. Lirim Krasniqi, co-founder of Germin, an NGO dealing with the Albanian diaspora, expresses concern over the extensive issue of emigration in Kosovo. 

He emphasizes the economic impact of losing a significant portion of the young population, aged between 24 and 35, which could have long-term consequences for Kosovo’s society.

Kosovo’s university graduates study for unemployment, says Krasniqi and explains: “Kosovo has to reform its education system so that university graduates also get a chance here.” 

“The health sector will be hit the hardest, not least because of the prolonged education periods,” says Krasniqi. The Kosovan government lacks a strategy for addressing emigration. While countries like Germany are actively recruiting skilled workers, young people from Kosovo are also highly sought after, leading to a significant shortage of workers within the country.

Krasniqi emphasizes that Kosovo’s university graduates often find themselves studying for unemployment, highlighting the urgent need for education system reforms to provide better opportunities for graduates within the country. 

To address the shortage of skilled workers in Germany, he suggests that Germany should compensate Kosovo for the education received by skilled workers through investments, a point that Kosovo should raise in diplomatic talks.

Zamira feels content with her life in Germany. Unlike in Kosovo, she benefits from health insurance, employment insurance, and a good salary, which is why she has no desire to return permanently to her homeland.

Zamira seized the opportunity to build a better life in Germany, which came with financial advantages, additional responsibilities, and longer working hours. However, this also meant being separated from her home and family, a challenge that not everyone can cope with, regardless of the monetary rewards.

Vjosa Çerkini is a reporter and author of Deutsche Welle for Southeast Europe.


01 September 2023 - 15:44

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