Germany ‘desperately searching’ for skilled workers to plug shortage

With immigration from the EU slowing down, the German government fears that companies will continue to see a huge shortage of skilled workers.

Germany 'desperately searching' for skilled workers to plug shortage
A trainee mechanic rolls a tire through the Volkswagen Factory near Hannover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

The German Integration Commissioner, Annette Widmann-Mauz, has warned that the German economy is facing a “desperate” search for skilled labour.

In an interview with the German Editorial Network, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politicians revealed that German companies were already missing around 270,000 qualified men and women.

According to Widmann-Mauz, this at least partly due to a drop-off in skilled EU immigration, which includes craftspeople, engineers, nurses, care workers, cooks and metal workers.

“The number of additional skilled workers and workers from the EU in Germany fell by around 25 percent last year,” she said.

READ ALSO: Germany’s foreign population growth slows to ten year low

Her comments come hot on the heels of Industry Day on Tuesday, which saw politicians and business heavyweights gather in Berlin to discuss the future of German business under the slogan #ChoicingTheNew.

A wide range of German industries – including construction, food, and nursing – have come to rely heavily on a largely immigrant workforce from across the EU in recent years.

This workforce can be credited with a 0.2 percent annual growth in the German economy over the past years, Widmann-Mauz explained. 

Is the immigration law helping to attract workers?

Though Covid-19 appears to have exacerbated the problem, the German government has been attempting to close its skills gap for a number of years.

In 2019, the government penned a draft law designed to make it easier for workers with vocational skills to migrate to Germany.

The law, the Skilled Immigration Act, came into force in March 2020 – the month of the country’s first national Covid-19 lockdown.

At that point, around 30 percent of German businesses said they were impacted by labour shortages, according to the KfW-ifo Skilled Labour Barometer.

The Act sought to encourage new types of skilled immigration by widening the definition of a “qualified professional” to include immigrants with vocational training, rather than just academic qualifications. 

Qualified professionals face an easier route when migrating to Germany, with simplified visa applications and reduced red tape. 

READ ALSO: 10 things you need to know about Germany’s new law to attract skilled foreign workers

The skills gap corrected slightly in the months that followed, but then widened once again this spring.

According a recent report by KfW-ifo, 23.7 percent of German businesses reported a shortage of qualified staff in April 2021. 

“At the end of the year, the proportion should be as high as before the crisis, when GDP has once again reached pre-crisis levels,” the report warned.  

Member comments

  1. I live in Germany for almost 5 years, and still struggle a lot. Not only bringing skilled workers is important, but also keeping them. In the building that I live, I see many skilled immigrants moving to other countries or returning home, because it is too hard to adapt to Germany: the language is a barrier, public authorities don’t even try to speak English, finding schools and specially Kitas is quite hard, let alone affordable apartments (and let’s not talk about landlords trying to rip off our deposits or not fixing problems in the apartment).

    Of course, Germany has lots of opportunities, and despite everything I still love living here. However, I do see the challenges to live here as a foreigner.

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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.