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IMMIGRATION

Thousands protest for and against migrants in divided Chemnitz

Thousands of opponents and supporters of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration policy marched on Saturday (Sep 1) through the eastern city of Chemnitz after a wave of racist violence that followed a knife killing.

Thousands protest for and against migrants in divided Chemnitz
Demonstrators hold up placards showing portraits of victims of refugees during a protest organised by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Photos: AFP

The rallies, which drew 8,000 people according to police, left 18 people injured (including three police officers) as the anti-migrant far-right and counter-protesters held opposing rallies in the German city of Chemnitz, which was hit by xenophobic demonstrations last week.

Far-right protesters paraded with large portraits of victims of attacks perpetrated, they claimed, by asylum-seekers.

Some chanted “Merkel must go” and “We are the people” while waving German flags.

Anti-fascist demonstrators, meanwhile, brandished banners reading “Chemnitz is neither grey nor brown” and “Heart instead of hate”.

There was a heavy police presence with reinforcements from all over Germany after they were outnumbered by thousands of neo-Nazis, football hooligans and other extremists earlier this week. 

Sunday and Monday evenings saw outbreaks of street violence, triggered by the arrest of one Iraqi protester and one Syrian, suspected of stabbing a 35-year-old carpenter to death.

Following the arrests, mobs launched random street attacks against people they took to be foreigners, including an Afghan, a Syrian and a Bulgarian man.

Saturday's protests drew around 4,500 far-right supporters from various movements including the far-right anti-immigration alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement, according to police estimates.

Another 3,500 marched in support of Merkel's immigration policy, which has seen more than one million migrants and refugees allowed into Germany since 2015.

The government lent its support to the pro-migrant rally through Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who tweeted: “The Second World War started 79 years ago. Germany caused unimaginable suffering in Europe. If once again people are parading today in the streets making Nazi salutes, our past history forces us to resolutely defend democracy.”

“We will not let right-wing extremists destroy our country and our democracy. Neither in Chemnitz, nor in Saxony nor anywhere in Germany. Our constitution must prevail. We must defend it. Now!” added one of the Greens' leaders Cem Ozdemir in a tweet accompanied by a picture of him with demonstrators.

The violence and heated debate on immigration have brought back to the fore what has become the most challenging political issue for Merkel, especially in the former communist east of Germany where the AfD is the number one party in some towns and regions.

Following criticism of Merkel's earlier open door policy, her government has increasingly tightened asylum laws as conservative and far-right disquiet has grown.

After an initially jubilant welcome, the migrant influx sparked a strong backlash that saw a spate of hate crimes and swept once-fringe party AfD into parliament.
 

Member comments

  1. Why is the AfD ‘far right’? The right wing, since the French Revolution, has represented the Monarchy, the Church, the Nobility and the Landed Gentry. I have looked through the AfD manifesto. Nothing in it remotely supports the definition of ‘right wing’ let alone ‘far right’, whatever that could be. More Monarchical than the Monarch, more ecclesiastical than the Pope, perhaps? More capitalist than the Rothschilds? Please, The Local, define ‘far right’ based on the classical definition of right and left wing. You use it often enough!

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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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