10 things you need to know about Germany's new law to attract skilled foreign workers
On March 1st, the Skilled Immigration Act came into force, which should make it easier for people from non-EU countries to migrate to Germany for work.
The law – called the "Fachkräfteeinmigrationgesetz" in German – extends access to the labour market in Germany for skilled workers from countries outside the EU. But how does it actually work?
We break it down for you.
Why is there a new law?
There's a shortage of skilled workers in Germany across sectors.
In order to address this and fill the gaps in the labour market, a new package of laws were passed on June 7th last year, which aim to attract foreign skilled vocational workers with German language skills – including those from outside the EU – and promises them eased visa procedures and reduced red tape.
There are more than 1.5 million jobs that Germany will find difficult to fill in the long term, according to the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK).
The government estimates that the new rules should bring in an additional 25,000 skilled workers – such as craftspeople, engineers, nursers, care workers, cooks and metal workers – to Germany every year.
The law came into force on March 1st this year.
According to the government, making sure employees already in Germany can receive further training if they want it is a top priority in the strategy to gain more skilled workers.
However, as the demographics change in Germany's ageing society, experts say many more workers are needed. That's why the country wants to attract qualified skilled workers from elsewhere.
Here are some of the measures involved in the new law to address this:
Opening up the labour market
Germany is now open to anyone who has completed vocational training.
Skilled professionals from non-EU countries have so far had unrestricted access to the labour market – but only if they have an academic qualification, like a university degree.
Now thanks to the new law the definition of a qualified professional has changed. It's now defined as a person with an education degree or a vocational training qualification who has come from a training course lasting at least two years.
The care sector in Germany needs more employees. Photo: DPA
That means those with foreign vocational qualifications in any occupation, such as electricians, will also be able to obtain a visa or residence permit for employment – not just those with university degrees.
Job seekers need to have their qualification recognised
It doesn't matter whether you have a university degree or a vocational qualification, all skilled workers first have to get their foreign qualification recognised by the relevant authority in Germany.
Before being able to apply for a visa, job seekers must be offered a contract for skilled employment in Germany.
Qualified professionals with academic degrees can also work in any occupations related to their field which require a vocational non-academic qualification. This excludes semi-skilled occupations.
This differs to the The EU Blue Card, which is only ever issued for jobs that go with the professional qualification, (normally an academic degree), and those who receive the card must earn a certain amount.
No priority given to German workers
Employers who were previously obliged to give preference to German or EU applicants over others from different countries will no longer be able to do this under the new law.
This rule (Vorrangprüfung) is now obsolete for positions in skilled professions. However, this can be reintroduced if the labour market nosedives.
Another thing to note is that qualified professionals from outside the EU with vocational training are no longer restricted to occupations with a skills shortage. If someone has a qualification recognised in Germany they can work in all occupations covered by their qualification.
Helping with the job search and allowing internships
In order to help plug the vacancy gap, people with vocational training or a degree can be granted a stay of six months to look for a job.
To get this permit, job seekers must have a recognised qualification, be able to support themselves financially while job hunting and have German language skills (generally at B1 level).
During the search, trial work of up to 10 hours a week can be carried out. This makes it possible to do an internship with a potential employer.
Skilled professionals with an academic qualification, who as before were permitted to come to Germany for six months to seek employment, are also now allowed to work up to 10 hours per week on a trial basis.
They do not have to demonstrate any language skills.
Facilitating qualification recognition and easing visa procedure
The recognition of the foreign professional qualification is essential in order for a skilled worker from a non-EU country to obtain a residence permit for employment.
But if the qualification is not recognised there are other ways. In fact, opportunities to come to Germany to train have been improved.
If a qualification is not fully recognised, the job seeker can apply for a visa to come to Germany to complete training. They will need A2 level German. This 18-month residence permit can be extended to a maximum period of two years.
Furthermore, the new law aims to accelerate the procedures for skilled workers to get a visa.
Better prospects for skilled workers
People who come to Germany as skilled employees should be able to integrate into everyday life and secure their future, says the government.
Skilled workers who have gained a German university degree or vocational training in Germany will be able to obtain a permanent settlement permit after two years of employment.
Meanwhile, skilled workers with a recognised foreign qualification will be able to get a permit after four years (it was previously five years).
How is the government getting the word out?
As well as easing visa procedures, the government is launching targeted advertising in cooperation with the business world and industries to attract job seekers.
Meanwhile, the government hopes that accelerated recognition of foreign educational qualifications and increased language support, particularly abroad, will help attract workers.
Is everyone happy?
The new law is controversial. Some don't think it goes far enough for skilled workers, especially considering that they might have to devote time to learning German in their home country without the guarantee of a job.
Others are concerned about more immigration to Germany, particularly because the country has seen an influx in migrants and refugees in recent years.
German authorities have sought to point out that the new law is not aimed at making unskilled immigration easier.
For more information check out the government website Make it in Germany.