How Germany plans to fight worker shortage with new immigration law

A new draft law set to ease immigration rules in a bid to attract foreign job seekers, including giving well-integrated migrants a chance to stay in Germany, has been put forward.

How Germany plans to fight worker shortage with new immigration law
A skilled worker in Fürstenwalde, Brandenburg. Photo: DPA

On Monday, the Interior Ministry submitted the draft bill to the other ministries for consultation. It is hoped the new regulations will fill positions and help fight Germany's extreme worker shortage.

According to the draft, anyone who has an employment contract and a “recognized qualification” may in principle work in Germany in future, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday.

One of the most significant changes is a bid to get rid of a rule that required bosses to prove that neither a German nor an EU citizen could be found to fill a position before it was offered to an immigrant.

The new law is also set to relax restrictions that gave preference to foreign workers filling up so-called “bottleneck occupations”, jobs that have a lot of vacancies, including in the care sector, the IT industry and electrical engineering. This will open up other industries to skilled foreign workers.

Another proposed change is for skilled workers –  such as cooks, metallurgy workers, builders or IT technicians – to be able to enter the country for six months in order to look for a job in Germany.

SEE ALSO: Germany to ease immigration rules to fight worker shortage

The draft states that “skilled workers can obtain both a residence permit to work and a residence permit to look for a job”. The prerequisite is that they speak German well enough and are able to earn their own living.

The three Ministries of the Interior, Employment and Economic Affairs worked closely together on the draft law.

However, there will almost certainly still be a few requests from other ministries to make comments or change parts of it before it is passed. 

Many critics would prefer a points-based system, already enforced in countries such as Australia, which rates skilled workers and prioritizes who is allowed to enter the country and work.

Industry needs a relaxation of immigration rules

The draft law has come about in a bid to address the shortage of skilled workers in many regions and industries across Germany.

There are currently some 1.2 million open positions, according to Germany’s Institute for Employment Research.

The coalition hammered out a deal in October and aims to pass the law by the end of the year.

Manpower from the bloc of around 500 million people would not suffice to keep the German economy ticking, the coalition noted back in October.

“That's why we need workers from third countries,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had told a press conference while detailing the strategy.

Photo: DPA

However, ministers have been keen to stress the continued “separation of asylum and employment migration”, mindful that Germany has been deeply polarized by the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers since 2015.

Industry has long been calling for a relaxation of immigration regulations for qualified employees from non-EU countries. For skilled workers with a university degree, there is already a fairly liberal immigration law. Highly-qualified workers, especially in fields such as maths and engineering, can apply for a so-called Blue Card for at least four years.

SEE ALSO: Where are the vacant jobs in Germany and which industries are most in demand

For those who only have vocational training, however, it has so far been rather difficult.

The sticking point in the draft law for all those who want to work in Germany, however, is likely to remain “the determination of the equivalence of qualifications”, as the text of the law states.

This is because the recognition of foreign vocational training has so far been a laborious process, which is often difficult to achieve from the applicants' home countries.

Flexibility on issues is possible

The draft, however, contains a potential relaxation on this point: “a limited possibility” will be created to have the vocational training which was acquired abroad recognized “under certain conditions” after entry into Germany.

This means that qualified foreigners can enter the country, possibly even start a job – and have their qualifications recognized from their home country while this is ongoing.

Eventually, skilled workers can apply for permanent residence, reported Handelsblatt. But only if they hold a residence permit for four years, are working in a suitable job and have paid into the pensions system for at least 48 months.

However, if their professional certification was completed in Germany, that period is shortened to three years.

The final version of the law is to be presented for approval by the Bundestag will be discussed at a cabinet meeting on December 19th.

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Foreigners resident in Germany ‘not covered by new EES passport rules’

The European Commission has confirmed that non-EU nationals living in Germany won't be covered by EES - the major overhaul of passport rules and systems that's due to come into force next year.

Foreigners resident in Germany 'not covered by new EES passport rules'

The EU’s new entry and exit system (EES) is due to come into effect in May 2023, followed by the new ETIAS system in November, and between them they will have a major effect on travel in and out of the EU and Schengen zone.

EES means automated passport scans at EU external borders, which will increase security and tighten up controls of the 90-day rule. 

But the system is aimed at tourists and those making short visits to Germany – not non-EU citizens who live in Germany with a visa or permanent residency card – and there had been questions around how those groups would use the new system.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What the EU’s new EES system means for travel to Germany

The European Commission has now confirmed that EES does not apply for non-EU citizens who are living in Germany, telling The Local: “Non-EU nationals holders of residence permits are not in the scope of the Entry/Exit System and ETIAS. More about exceptions can be found on the website.

“When crossing the borders, holders of EU residence permits should be able to present to the border authorities their valid travel documents and residence permits.”

What this means in practice is that foreigners living in Germany cannot use the new automated passport gates that will be introduced with EES in May 2023.

The reason for this is that the automated passport gates only give the option to show a passport – it is not possible to also show a residence permit or permanent residency card. 

The automated system also counts how long people have stayed in Germany or Schengen, and whether they have exceeded their 90-day limit for short-term or visa-free stays.

Since residents are naturally exempt from the 90-day rule, they need to avoid the 90-day ‘clock’ beginning when they enter the EU. The best way to do this is to ensure that someone sees sees your residence permit upon entry. 

According to German immigration authorities, a stamp given out in error should not have an impact on residency rights. However, if the entry checks are conducted electronically, your passport could erroneously record an overstay, which could cause headaches later on. 

READ ALSO: British residents of EU told not to worry about ‘souvenir’ passport stamps

A Commission spokesman said: “EES is an automated IT system for registering non-EU nationals travelling for a short stay, each time they cross the external borders of European countries using the system (exemptions apply, see FAQ section).

“This concerns travellers who require a short-stay visa and those who do not need a visa. Refusals of entry are also recorded in the system. Non-EU citizens residing in the EU are not in the scope of the EES and will not be subject to pre-enrollment of data in the EES via self-service systems. The use of automation remains under the responsibility of the Member States and its availability in border crossing points is not mandatory.”

According to the French Interior Ministry, residents from non-EU countries should go to a manned gate and present their passport and residency papers together, instead of using the electronic gates. 

The Local has contacted the German Interior Ministry to confirm whether similar guidance applies in Germany.