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IMMIGRATION

Interior minister: We need populism

Facing election this year, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich seems to have gone off-piste over immigration, warning that populist measures are necessary to avoid the threat of fascism, comments Hannah Cleaver.

Interior minister: We need populism
Photo: DPA

Germany will veto Romania and Bulgaria joining the Schengen passport-free zone if the two countries push their membership at an EU meeting this week, Friedrich warned on Sunday.

“The expansion of the Schengen zone is only accepted by our citizens if the basic requirements are ensured. That is currently not the case,” he said, matter-of-factly.

But some may have heard faint echoes of 1960s British racist Enoch Powell when Friedrich last week said, “We are the country which has until now been able to keep far-right parties out of the national parliament. But that will only remain the case if we continue to take the worries of the people seriously, and the problems are solved.”

Talking to the Rheinische Post regional paper, he added, “If people in Germany have the feeling that their solidarity and their openness are being abused, and our social security system is being plundered, there will be justified anger.”

“The current figures are troubling but can be dealt with,” he went on. “But this can take on a new dimension from 2014. When people tell each other what is possible in Germany with social welfare, we should brace ourselves. Organisations that specialise in illegally opening the way to social welfare in Germany for citizens from poorer countries will spring up like mushrooms.”

He was referring to changes due to come into force in 2014 that will allow people from Romania and Bulgaria to work in Germany without restriction – just as Poles, Greeks and other people from within the EU are able to.

Confusion over entitlements

Conflicting information about how much social support they may be entitled to in Germany adds to a confusing debate that is often fuelled as much by fear, xenophobia and prejudice as anything else.

Although German authorities say new immigrants are not entitled to social support for at least their first three months in the country, those who sue for it generally win, lawyer Aiko Peterson told last Friday’s Süddeutsche Zeitung.

There is also a perceived problem of people from Bulgaria and Romania falsely registering as self-employed and then picking up work on building sites. The change of rules in 2014 will undoubtedly lead to an increase in immigration, said Gunilla Fincke, manager of the Expert Commission on Integration and Migration.

But she told the Süddeutsche Zeitung “in reality most of the migrants are already here. They will just be able to legalize their work situation.”

Pressure on German services

Any increase in those so poor they cannot provide for themselves or their children will put more pressure on German social services – and regional governments are already complaining that they are having trouble coping.

A recent report from German Association of Cities said they were hard-pressed by increased costs in housing, schools and other social support due to poverty stricken migrants.

Professor Joachim Trebbe, media analyst at Berlin’s Free University, told The Local the continuation of the euro crisis and the inability of struggling countries to get unemployment under control would mean that increasing numbers of people would flock to Germany for work.

But he also noted that not only was Friedrich gearing up for the September 22 general election, as a Christian Social Union politician he is involved in the Bavarian state election scheduled for a week earlier.

‘Good immigrants’ are invisible

“Migration will be an issue – people will continue to come to Germany from Spain for example, where unemployment is at 26 percent. Migration will increase, and even though the negative consequences are proportionally small, they will also increase. We have the highest level of migration to Germany of a decade, and that will become a theme.

“The IT worker from Spain will come, and will learn German and will not be visible as they go to work. But along with them will come a share of immigrants who are less successful, and they will be visible as they will not be in work.”

He said those people who come to Germany and end up homeless were highly visible to voters. The kind of measures promised by politicians such as tougher safeguards to prevent social security fraud and extraditing those who do, would do little to solve the underlying problems, he said.

The fact that living in Germany from begging or eking out child benefit payments is considered a viable option for some among the poorest people in Romania or Bulgaria has less to do with Germany than the terrible conditions they face at home.

Trebbe said efforts were being made using money and political pressure within the EU to improve their lives at home, but that this was a slow process often not helped by corruption in the target countries.

“And it is not so visible to voters. Helping to improve conditions in Romania does not win elections. Clearing a park of the people sleeping in it does,” he said.

Hannah Cleaver

[email protected]

twitter.com/hannahcleaver2

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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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