German government plans to make immigration easier to fill 1.7 million vacancies

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser is one of the architects of Germany's new expansive immigration policies. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File )
By M B
8 Min Read

Bureaucracy and formalities should no longer prevent German employers from hiring skilled foreign workers in the future, according to the German federal government.

As reported in Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper, the German government wants to lower the formal immigration requirements for entry into the country, a move that will apply above all to the recognition procedure for professional qualifications.

“Industry, trade, health, social care: We urgently need more skilled workers in many areas. We have to pull out all the stops to leverage the potential at home and abroad,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser and Labor Minister Hubertus Heil wrote in a guest article for Handelsblatt on Wednesday.

Given the 1.7 million vacancies in Germany, which companies are increasingly having problems filling, President of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce Peter Adrian believes that policy adjustments on immigration are overdue.

“We have to compensate for the demographical loss of 4 to 5 million workers over the next 10 years,” he told the publication.

It is, therefore, important that the immigration of skilled workers also works in practice. This starts with functioning diplomatic missions, visa offices, and immigration authorities.

“”It’s unacceptable that employers must chase the immigration office, which is responsible for granting work permits,” said Adrian.

A new migration package will come

“The shortage does not only exist for highly qualified specialists but in almost all professions and for most qualifications,” said the president of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Marcel Fratzscher. “Therefore, Germany will need 500,000 additional employees annually over the next 10 years.

The federal government has already presented a first migration package that intends to give foreigners living in Germany for many years a permanent situation. Faeser and Heil also want to launch a second migration package.

Specialists, who have professional experience and a degree from their home country, and who have successfully applied for a job in Germany, will be allowed to come and work. The employers will have to finance the recognition procedure that runs parallel to the work.

With the Skilled Immigration Act that came into force in March 2020, the immigration of professionally qualified people has already become easier. However, before foreign nationals can arrive and work in Germany, they usually must prove that their qualifications are comparable to the professional qualifications required in Germany. This costs “valuable time,” wrote Faeser and Heil, and money that the applicant pays.

“We are doing away with a migration policy shaped by the CDU and CSU,” continued Faeser and Heil.

Many consider recognition of professional qualifications a big hurdle and bottleneck for immigration, if only because procedures by many competent authorities are not easy to navigate for interested parties from abroad.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, the competent authorities or chambers processed around 59,000 recognition procedures in 2020, and 44,800 professional qualifications obtained abroad were recognized in full or with a few exceptions.

The traffic light coalition wants to make the process easier

Faeser and Heil’s plans go even further. Under current proposals, experienced professionals would be allowed to enter Germany without an employment contract to look for a job, subject to two conditions: They must still apply for recognition of their qualifications from abroad at a responsible office in Germany and have them certify that their qualifications are at least partially comparable to German ones.

They must also prove that they can support themselves. They can then seek work in Germany, catch up on the knowledge they need to be recognized as a skilled worker, and acquire a residence permit.

The traffic light coalition wants to facilitate the immigration of skilled workers with already recognized qualifications as well. In the future, this would enable employment in a non-specialist profession. A trained carpenter could then take a job in sales, for example, if he has a professional qualification recognized in Germany.

“Our immigration system is still too sluggish, too bureaucratic, too dismissive. As a traffic light coalition, we have set out to change that,” wrote Faeser and Heil. “If you have a recognized professional qualification, you can work in all jobs.”

In addition, the earnings thresholds will be lower for university graduates who come to Germany via a so-called Blue Card. There is currently a minimum salary limit of €56,400 per annum.

So far, Germany has witnessed a huge influx in migrant labor as a result of the European Union’s freedom of movement principle. However, the migration balance with other EU countries peaked at 382,000 in 2015 and has been declining since.

With immigration from the European Union stabilizing, migrants from third countries are now being targeted by liberal governments to fill job vacancies.

At the end of 2021, the Federal Statistical Office counted around 70,000 holders of a so-called EU Blue Card, which applies to skilled foreign nationals with a university degree. That is a new high; however, the pandemic has also significantly slowed down immigration per this route.

The pandemic temporarily inhibited mass immigration

Overall, the annual number of migrant workers from non-EU countries more than doubled between 2010 and 2019 – from around 30,000 to 64,000. Since 2016, the so-called Western Balkans regulation, which was originally introduced to relieve the asylum procedure, has also contributed to this.

Citizens from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are allowed to accept any employment in Germany, regardless of their qualifications, except for temporary work.

The annual quota is limited to 25,000 immigrants. The regulation, particularly popular in the construction industry, is limited until the end of 2023. The SPD, Greens, and FDP have agreed per the coalition agreement to extend it indefinitely.

The coronavirus pandemic has also slowed migrant labor from third countries. In 2020, despite the new Skilled Immigration Act, only 30,000 people who received a residence permit for gainful employment officially entered Germany. Immigration alone will not solve the labor problem, believes DIW President Fratzscher.

The economist warned that the focus should be more on women’s employment than relying on migrant labor to fill gaps in the German workforce. More than half of the women in Germany work part-time. Many would like to work more if the financial, family, and bureaucratic conditions were better.

“Therefore, the federal government must finally focus on removing employment obstacles for women,” said Fratzscher, calling on reform and massive investment in daycare centers and schools.

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