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IMMIGRATION

The new anti-Semitism

Having seen the disastrous consequences of virulent anti-Semitism firsthand, Germany must lead the fight against Europe’s rising intolerance towards Muslims, writes The Local’s Marc Young.

The new anti-Semitism
Photo: DPA

Pedants never tire of pointing out that the term anti-Semitism should not solely apply to prejudice against Jews, but also other Semitic peoples like the Arabs.

For once, I’m for backing such Semitic semantics in light of the increasingly acrid debate about the integration of Arab and Turkish immigrants in Germany. In recent weeks, it’s become rather apparent that bigotry towards Muslims is Europe’s new anti-Semitism.

Last weekend, Horst Seehofer, the conservative state premier of Bavaria, sparked outrage by calling for an end to immigration from Islamic countries. Many German observers chalked up his comments as a ham-fisted attempt to bolster support for his Christian Social Union party by pandering to crass xenophobia.

But Seehofer’s remarks followed several of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives expressing unease over German President Christian Wulff’s recent statement that Islam was as much a part of German society as Christianity and Judaism. One Bavarian politician even said there could be no religious equality for Islam in Germany.

Of course, anyone who thinks Muslim influence on European culture was rolled back with the Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683 should try living without the benefits of algebra for a day.

But the contentious national discussion started over the summer by the centre-left Social Democrat Thilo Sarrazin – who claimed in an inflammatory book that Muslim immigrants would be Germany’s downfall – should not be dismissed lightly as harmless populism by insecure politicians.

Just as the statistic-loving former Bundesbank board member Sarrazin wrongly reduced entire groups of people to numbers, Seehofer has maligned individual Turks and Arabs by damning them collectively.

And such publicly professed prejudice has consequences.

Two studies published this week showed German youths held widespread biases against Turks and that xenophobia in Germany was spreading.

Tragically it took something as horrific as the Holocaust to ensure Jews equal treatment in Western democracies like Britain and the United States, where anti-Jewish attitudes were rife prior to World War II. No-one should forget that it was only the incomparable crimes of Nazi Germany committed against Europe’s Jewry that made it no longer socially acceptable to express anti-Semitic sentiments openly.

But unlike many nations, Germans have unflinchingly confronted the darker parts of their past in order to learn from it. Accordingly, Germany must now not allow an entire group of people be discriminated against because of their religion or heritage.

Many German conservatives have recently mentioned the country’s “Christian-Judeo” traditions – something that would normally be expressed in English as being Judeo-Christian. But it’s not just the chronological order of the three monotheistic faiths Judaism, Christianity and Islam that makes it easy to include the Jews while excluding Muslims.

It’s also the Holocaust. People who these days deny the huge cultural contribution of Jews to German society are beyond the pale – and rightfully so. But it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to apply the ugly rhetoric currently being directed towards Muslims to Germany’s Jewish population before the war.

Let me be painfully clear here – I am in no way equating the persecution Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis with the anti-Muslim sentiment now simmering in modern, democratic Germany.

However, just as it was once acceptable to badmouth Jews and scapegoat them for society’s ills – in Germany as well as Western democracies like America and Britain – millions of law-abiding, well-integrated Muslims are now being targeted unfairly.

It would be easy to say this new anti-Semitism started on September 12, 2001, but Europe’s immigration issues have little to do with overblown fearmongering about Osama bin Laden’s “Islamofascists” plotting world domination. Germany’s Muslim integration problems are of a longer festering sort caused first and foremost by the country’s denial for decades that immigrants from Turkey and elsewhere were here to stay.

There is no point disputing that Arabs and Turks could be better integrated in German society, but labelling them all as unwanted troublemakers simply because of their faith contravenes the core tenets of liberal Western democracy.

No matter your race, creed or colour, if you adhere to the principles of the constitution – the Basic Law in Germany’s case – you should be welcome. Anything else is bigotry, plain and simple.

The Local – set up by two British expats in Sweden – is by nature pro-immigrant. We write for exchange students and engineers from Indonesia and Morocco as much as bankers and au pairs from America and Australia.

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IMMIGRATION

What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

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