‘Historic day’ as Germany takes step forward in relaxing rules for foreign workers

Worker-starved Germany plans to ease immigration rules to attract foreign jobseekers and replenish its fast ageing workforce, despite mounting public resistance against new arrivals.

'Historic day' as Germany takes step forward in relaxing rules for foreign workers
File photo of a worker welding in a dry dock in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet approved a new immigration law which still has to be formally approved by parliament next year, possibly with some amendments.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier hailed as a “historic day” the cabinet's decision on Germany's first immigration law, which had been eagerly anticipated by business groups.

SEE ALSO: How Germany plans to fight worker shortage with new immigration law

The new law aims to attract foreign skilled vocational workers with German language skills, including those from outside the European Union, and promises them eased visa procedures and reduced red tape.

“We need manpower from third countries to safeguard our prosperity and be able to fill the job vacancies,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

Job-seekers such as cooks, metallurgy workers or IT technicians would be allowed to come to the EU's biggest economy for six months to try and find employment, provided they can financially support themselves.

A separate provision, which sparked much controversy, will allow permanent residency for some of the rejected asylum seekers in Germany who have been granted stays of deportation because their home country is considered unsafe.

To qualify, they must have held a full-time job for 18 months, speak at least intermediate-level German, be socially well-integrated with no criminal offences, and be able to prove their identity.

“We must not deport the wrong people,” said Labour Minister Hubertus Heil, who stressed that many of the recent arrivals now “speak German, work, are industrious and are useful for Germany”.

 'Pragmatic solution'

Nonetheless, the provision for asylum seekers had been criticized for potentially sending the wrong signal and encouraging human traffickers to bring illegal migrants to Germany on the promise they will eventually be allowed to stay.

Immigration has been a hot-button political issue since Germany has absorbed more than one million mostly Muslim refugees and migrants from 2015.

The large influx sparked a xenophobic backlash that saw the far-right, anti-immigration and anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) enter parliament a year ago as the biggest opposition party.

Germany is struggling to fill positions across the board, including in the metal industry. Photo: DPA

But Germany has also been anxious not to leave thousands of migrants idle and susceptible to taking on jobs on the black labour market while they spend years awaiting a final decision on their asylum claims.

The ministers stressed that the new rules aim to find a “pragmatic solution” for rejected asylum seekers who cannot be sent back because, for instance, they face the risk of torture in their country of origin.

Sounding an optimistic note, the head of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations, Ingo Kramer, last week said that, of those who arrived since 2015, “more than 400,000 are in employment or training… even I
am surprised at how quickly it's progressing”.

With unemployment at 5.0 percent, a record low since Germany's 1990 reunification, companies in Europe's most populous economy have long complained that a chronic shortage of workers is threatening growth.

In the areas of mathematics, computing, natural sciences and technology, a record 338,200 jobs went unfilled in September, according to data from the Cologne-based German Economic Institute.

Altmaier said the new rules will especially help Germany's small-and-medium-sized companies “which in the past have suffered as they are in competition with big companies that have poached the well-trained people”.

To attract qualified professionals from abroad, the German government has opened the information website

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-language jobs in Germany

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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.