The law, drawn up by Education Minister Annette Schavan, means that as of March 1, 2012, immigrants have the right to have their qualifications assessed within three months. If their certificates do not match German standards, they must be informed what they need to do to close the gaps.
In a government statement, Schavan called the law “an important sign with a view to the shortage of skilled labour,” and a “milestone in integration policy.”
The law has endured an arduous process in coming to fruition. Although there was cross-party agreement that red tape had to be cut, opposition parties wanted to provide more help for foreigners than the government.
Schavan was opposed to the Social Democratic Party's suggestion that immigrants should have the automatic right to study for further vocational qualifications in Germany. Schavan told Die Welt newspaper ahead of Friday's vote that Germans “would rightly feel themselves discriminated against” if that were allowed.
The row briefly threatened to derail the new law, because the government coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) does not have a majority in the upper house of Germany's parliament.
The government-affiliated Institute for Employment Research (IAB) says there are 2.8 million immigrants in Germany with qualifications, including 800,000 with university degrees. Many of them are forced to work in jobs they are over-qualified for because Germany does not recognize their academic certificates.
Many economists believe that this means Germany is depriving itself of valuable labour and expertise sorely needed in industry.
According to a government statement, up to 300,000 people could benefit directly from the law passed Friday.