Sep 1, 8:14 AM EDT

Germany: economy has room for refugees, but extra spending of up to $3.7B needed next year


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BERLIN (AP) -- The German economy has room to accommodate refugees, the labor minister said Tuesday, but the government will need to spend billions of extra euros (dollars) to cover language courses, benefits and their integration into the labor market.

Labor Minister Andrea Nahles' comments came after official data underlined the strength of Europe's biggest economy, showing the national unemployment rate at 6.4 percent in August. That compares with higher jobless rates in many other European countries, topping 20 percent in Greece and Spain.

"Additional workers are needed in many areas of the German economy," Nahles told reporters in Berlin. "We want to use this situation to open up the opportunity for the refugees who have come to us legitimately of a new and better life in Germany."

"Our aim must be to put the people who have come to us into decent work," she said. "The people who are coming as refugees should quickly become neighbors and colleagues."

That, however, will require extra spending on German language courses for refugees, benefits during training and the newcomers' ultimate integration into the labor market. Successful asylum applicants in Germany have to attend "integration courses," which include a language element, but Nahles said that people need further language courses to get a foothold in the labor market.

Next year, Germany will have to spend an extra 1.8 billion to 3.3 billion euros ($2 billion to $3.7 billion) to cover those costs, Nahles said. That figure is expected to rise to 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) by 2019.

One of Chancellor Angela Merkel's most cherished achievements has been balancing Germany's budget. She said Monday there's still no doubt about it, at least this year, in view of strong government tax income.

Germany expects 800,000 migrants to arrive this year, four times as many as in 2014. The many applicants from countries in southeastern Europe have virtually no chance of being granted asylum, but refugees from countries such as Syria have good chances of staying.

Nahles said much remains unclear about the figures and costs, but authorities expect an extra 240,000 to 460,000 people to be eligible for benefits for job-seekers and their families next year, with the figure possibly rising to 1 million by 2019.

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