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Ukrainian refugees push up German unemployment rate

Germany's unemployment rate rose for the first time in two years in June, figures published Thursday showed, as refugees fleeing Russia's war on Ukraine swelled the pool of job seekers.

People attend a job fair in Berlin aimed at Ukrainian refugees.
People attend a job fair in Berlin aimed at Ukrainian refugees. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The indicator rose to 5.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis, up from five percent in May, according to the BA federal labour agency.

Overall the number of unemployed rose by 133,000, also on a seasonally adjusted basis.

The sharp increase was due to the “extensive registration of Ukrainian refugees at job centres”, the BA said in a statement.

People escaping the conflict started by Russian President Vladimir Putin in February were now “visible” in employment statistics, BA chief, Detlef Scheele said in a statement.

Over five million Ukrainians have been registered as refugees in Europe according to the UNHCR, with hundreds of thousands finding their way to Germany.

But not all of them have found work corresponding to their qualifications, with the German language also creating a significant barrier.

Worker shortage goes up

At the same time, several sectors were facing shortages of workers, with 877,000 vacant posts, up 184,000 from the same month last year.

“Many companies are desperately seeking skilled workers,” said Fritzi Koehler-Geib, chief economist at the public lender KfW.

The shortage was particularly acute for skilled positions, Koehler-Geib said.

“This is a vulnerability of the German economy that has been building for a long time,” she said.

READ ALSO: Germany struggles with growing worker shortage 

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IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

The German government has agreed on a set of reforms for the immigration of skilled workers, which was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday. Here's what they're planning.

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

What’s happening?

Germany is currently facing a dramatic skilled worker shortage, particularly in the health sector, IT, construction, architecture, engineering and building services. The German government currently expects that, by 2026, there will be 240,000 jobs for which there will be no qualified candidates.

In order to help plug the gap in the labour market, the coalition government has been proposing changes to immigration law for months.

In September, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil presented plans for a new points-based immigration system, that will enable non-EU workers to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer, as long as they fulfil certain criteria, under a so-called “Opportunity Card” (Chancenkarte) scheme.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to apply for Germany’s new ‘opportunity card’ and other visas for job seekers

Now, the coalition government has agreed on a wide-ranging set of initiatives to help remove hurdles for skilled workers coming to Germany. The points were approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, who should then come up with a draft law in the first quarter of 2023.

What’s in the plans?

The central aim of the government’s plans is to make it easier for people from outside the EU to find a job in Germany.

In the draft paper, ministers distinguish between three so-called pillars, the first of which concerns the requirements that foreign specialists must meet in order to be allowed to work in Germany.

Until now, they have had to have a recognized degree and an employment contract, but the government wants to lower this hurdle.

The draft states: “For specialists who are unable to present documents relating to their professional qualifications or can only do so in part, for reasons for which they themselves are not responsible, an entry and residence option should nevertheless be created.” The competencies could then be finally examined once they have arrived in Germany.

A trainee electrician practices in a training centre in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

The second pillar involves skilled workers from abroad who do not yet have a degree but already have a lot of professional experience.

For employees in the information and communications technology sector, the requirement of having sufficient German language skills would be waived, and it would then be up to the managers of the company making the job offer to decide whether or not they want to employ the skilled worker despite a lack of German language skills. 

READ ALSO: ‘More jobs in English’: How Germany could attract international workers

The third pillar is about enabling third-country nationals with good potential to stay in Germany in order to find a job. The “Opportunity Card” falls under this pillar and will involve a new points-based system, which will allow non-EU nationals to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer as long as they fulfil at least three of the criteria of having a degree or professional qualification, having experience of at least three years, having a language skill or previous residence in Germany and are under 35.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Germany’s new opportunity card and other visas for job seekers

What other initiatives do the plans include?

The traffic light coalition also wants to do more to promote Germany as an attractive, innovative and diverse country abroad.

One initiative is to publicise job vacancies internationally and connect qualified people abroad with employers and educational institutions in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Will immigration reform be enough to combat Germany’s worker shortage?

The “Make it in Germany” portal, which has its own job exchange, will be expanded and further developed.

The government also wants to promote the German language both abroad and at home for example, by expanding digital language courses and exams.

The government also wants to simplify and accelerate the recognition procedures for foreign vocational qualifications. One of the planned measures is that the required documents can also be accepted in English or in the original language.

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