This pandemic has had a huge impact on many lives over the past year. So many people, including some people close to me, have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. I am in the lucky position to have reasonable job security – at least for the coming few years. My livelihood and family situation are safe and I am grateful for being where I am today, especially considering how things could have been. I moved to Germany on the day the first Covid-19 case has been traced back to, November 17, 2019. I really feel so lucky for having made it ‘in time’. Had it been a couple of months later and I would have been in a much more difficult position.
I always thought (German) bureaucracy was a horror pre-Covid-19. Well, there were a lot of boxes to tick, sure. But I think I have to change my mind on this. For me it was a breeze. As an EU citizen, I had really no issues getting into Germany. I needed no special work permits, no visas, no letters of intent, I needed nothing in particular. To be honest, even a PhD degree apparently was not needed, as I was hired on a postdoctoral contract, two weeks before I even received my PhD degree. It was fairly straightforward. I just needed to sign my contract + a million supporting surveys and questionnaires and send them back to Germany. Two weeks later, everything was arranged. Most of all, for what I did need, mostly those things needed upon arrival in a new country, there was no queue anywhere, Covid-19-generated or otherwise. I could walk into any office and cry for help in broken German. Register in the municipal? Sure, hand over your passport and rental contract and we’ll arrange it while you wait. Health insurance? Come on in. We’ll fix it for you. Tax numbers? Come on in. We’ll fix it for you. Everyone was so helpful in helping me tick all those boxes.
I have now experienced up close how the pandemic has made life a huge struggle for young researchers, and especially those from non-EU countries. I co-supervise a Latin American PhD researcher whom, like me, had already arrived in Germany pre-Covid-19. Much of her practical work, which was planned to be conducted at an external institute, was delayed by several months because of the pandemic. As if that delay wasn’t stressful enough, she then experienced a lot of trouble with visa extensions within Germany. During the pandemic, nobody really seemed to know what the regulations were and it took a whole lot of back-and-forth for her, to get her documents renewed, only just before they were about to expire. I’m pretty happy, and proud in a way, that even under these extra stressful circumstances she managed to catch up on all her lab work delays, assist in one of my own large experiments late last year, and now also finished a very successful experiment of her own just two weeks ago. She’s safe!
Of course this story doesn’t end there. A new PhD candidate, whom we had first interviewed, if I remember correctly, in August 2020, has also had her fair share of trouble getting here. She, too, is from Latin America. Luckily, we thought at the time, she was already in the EU, as she had obtained a degree in another EU country. Easy peasy, right? Forget it. It seemed that all institutions were closed down for months in a row. We provided letters of intent, had a preliminary contract drawn up, of course the funding was arranged. We basically had everything you would think would add credibility to her cause. Well, it probably did, but it doesn’t help if you cannot even apply for an appointment with the German embassy to apply for a visa. It wasn’t until mid-February before this first appointment had been given to her. We managed to temporarily hire her through other local institutions, so that she at least was compensated (worth the extra hassle!). Today, we had a meeting and she told me that she had picked up her visa! It really looks like she will be here to work with us soon! The news made my day, and I think the perseverance is a clear sign of motivation, so I am very much looking forward to working together in the coming years! I hope things will be easier soon. She’s almost safe, too!
It really seems that no institution currently knows how to handle the pandemic very well. Everyone is running around in circles, and you can’t really blame anyone of course. Institutions are probably also just trying their best (or maybe I’m naive). Everyone is overwhelmed. Everyone is affected. Although it was more effort for us to get our non-EU PhD candidate here, it was already worth it! It can be tempting to go the easy route and hire a local, even if they are not as good as the non-local candidates. I think it is critically important to put in the extra effort and be kind and helpful and not let the pandemic affect our hiring process.