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German media roundup: Merkel’s convoluted immigration policy

Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared “multiculturalism” dead but also wants to lure qualified immigrants to Germany. The conflicting messages left some newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Monday confused.

German media roundup: Merkel's convoluted immigration policy
Photo: DPA

The German government announced plans on Monday for a raft of measures aimed at fostering integration of immigrants, two days after Merkel said multiculturalism had “completely failed.”

Merkel’s centre-right cabinet would adopt “concrete” new regulations governing immigration policy and residency permits, with a focus on German language courses and combating forced marriages, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

He added that the government aimed in December to sign off on a bill that would see more foreign diplomas formally recognised after Education Minister Annette Schavan announced plans for recognising more foreign credentials to allow for the recruitment of 300,000 more qualified immigrants.

At the moment, workers who have obtained qualifications abroad have to pass a series of practical and theoretical tests as well as undergo interviews and evaluations. With an ageing population, employers in Europe’s biggest economy and exporter have long complained about a lack of trained youngsters and red tape hindering the hiring of qualified foreigners.

But several newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Monday were sceptical of Merkel’s two-pronged offensive – bashing some immigrants while trying to lure others – would work.

Frankfurt an der Oder’s regional daily the Märkische Oderzeitung said the chancellor’s Christian Democratic Union appeared to lack a coherent immigration strategy.

“What exactly does the Union want in regards to the issue of integration? The chancellor is vacillating and once again trying to please everyone,” the paper wrote. “Wanting to remain the world’s leading exporter while not allowing more foreigners into country somehow doesn’t fit. But simply offering empty words won’t help this issue move forward.”

Saxony’s Leipziger Volkszeitung also pointed out Merkel’s seeming hypocrisy on the issue of immigration.

“Islam is part of Germany, but multiculturalism isn’t, says Merkel while giddily clapping for the TV cameras when Mesut Özil scores goals for the German national football team,“ wrote the paper, referring to the midfielder with Turkish roots.

“While the federal government attempts to hash out criteria for highly qualified immigrants, the flailing CSU boss Horst Seehorfer fantasises about foreign cultures and stopping immigration while enjoying Merkel’s protection. But that will simply scare away qualified experts,” the paper opined.

But the right-wing daily Die Welt wrote that multiculturalism can’t be dead, because it never lived in the first place.

“No one has anything against immigrants who live and work here and want to fit in,” the paper wrote. “But many have something against immigrants who want to bring their own laws along. To immigrate doesn’t just mean accepting the traditions of the chosen country, but respecting them too.”

Those who choose not to do so should “please stay away,” the paper said.

Leftist daily Die Tageszeitung said that the German abbreviation for multiculturalism, Multikulti, isn’t even used by the Green party as it once was, and has instead become a “puppet for conservative politicians to batter ritually when they crave applause.”

But Merkel and Seehofer are using this technique and other “empty clichés” to distract from their real dilemma – that the economy, industry and their junior coalition partners, the pro-business Free Democrats all want skilled workers from abroad, while many in the public identify with the anti-immigrant remarks of former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin.

But Merkel and her conservatives know the country won’t make it without foreign workers, thus their recent proposals to institute an immigration point system similar to Canada’s, the paper said.

“The irony: Exactly this suggestion came from the Greens. But Merkel and Seehofer would rather throw themselves into rhetorical battles that have already long been decided.”

The Local/AFP/mry/ka

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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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