For members


Explained: Who are the foreign workers coming to Germany?

A new infographic breaks down which types of foreign workers - from low to high skilled - come to the Bundesrepublik, and where they stand in an EU wide comparison.

Explained: Who are the foreign workers coming to Germany?
An employee of wiring system manufacturer Leoni AG in Roth, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

The interactive infographic (available here), produced by Swiss-based employment provider Accurity GmbH, breaks down the numbers of high, low and medium skilled workers in the Bundesrepublik.

We look at the meanings behind the numbers, which come from European Commission data collected in 2018, for each of these groups.

SEE ALSO: Find a job in Germany

Low skilled

Germany is the country in the EU with the most low skilled foreign workers, at 1,143,000 people, or 29 percent of its total international workforce.

While the definition of “low-skilled” varies, it generally applies to jobs that require a limited education level or can be learned in a short amount of time. Some examples include kitchen workers or cleaners.

“Interestingly, despite the anti-immigration policies proposed in the UK and the Brexit vote, the UK takes in more highly skilled workers than anywhere else. Germany, on the other hand, takes in the most low skilled,” Stefano Roberti, a consultant with Accurity told The Local. 

The high numbers can be attributed to Germany “having one of the most liberal immigration systems,” Accurity CEO Nicola Clothier further explained. 

In June, the country passed new immigration laws in order to ease a labour shortage and make it easier for foreign workers of any education level outside of the EU to snag a work visa.

According to government estimates, the new rules will bring an additional 25,000 workers to Germany every year.

SEE ALSO: What Germany’s new controversial immigration laws mean for foreign workers

Medium skilled

A full 46 percent of Germany’s foreign workforce, or 1,829,115 people, can be defined as “medium skilled”. 

The definition of medium skilled worker is applied to people with upper secondary and post-secondary education, but who don’t have a degree from a trade school, college or university. 

The country is facing a shortage in employees with a medium-level of education, hence this group making up the largest incoming foreign proportion of the German labour market.

They gravitate towards such jobs include carpenters, electricians, nurses, and caregivers. In the care sector alone, there are currently almost 40,000 unfilled positions throughout the country, which can largely be attributed to Germany's aging population.

“As a general trend in Europe, it is increasingly difficult to find professionals in those sectors nowadays,” said Roberti.

SEE ALSO: Explained: How Germany plans to fight its drastic shortage of care workers

High skilled

There are a total of 1,012,190 high skilled foreign workers – or 25 percent of the total international workforce – in Germany.

These are workers who have a specific skill set which usually comes with a trade school or university degree such as a doctor, engineer or IT professional.

Figures show that the Bundesrepublik needs high-skilled workers to sustain its workers: only about a third of workers in this category were born in Germany. Close to 30 percent were born in another EU country, with an additional 25 percent born outside of the EU.

Germany has up to two million vacancies for high skilled workers, but red tape still remains in filling these vacancies through those coming from abroad, says Clothier.

“Germany is very apt at integrating migrants but doesn’t necessarily recognize qualifications obtained outside of its borders,” said Clothier.

To attract more high skilled workers and speed up the process to give them a visa, Germany has been offering a so-called Blue Card visa since 2012, targeting foreign workers in professions such as engineering, 

Germany also has a job-search visa for people with high qualifications, meaning it’s possible to enter the country without already having applied for a job, and simply search for one.

Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards within the EU. Deutschland divvies out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent).

For Germany's so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe – such as IT-professions, doctors and engineers), Blue Card recipients have to receive an annual gross annual salary of €41,808. For everyone else, it amounts to €53.800.

SEE ALSO: Explained: How to get a Blue Card to live and work in Germany

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?