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IMMIGRATION

‘Appointments in English’: How Germany wants to attract talent from abroad

Germany's Free Democrats have put forward a programme to help encourage immigration and attract skilled workers. Among the proposals is for English to be introduced as an official language in German local government authorities.

'Appointments in English': How Germany wants to attract talent from abroad
People stand in front of Berlin's Office for Immigration in May 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

What’s happening?

The business-friendly FDP, which is part of the ruling coalition along with the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, laid out plans this week on how they think Germany could become more immigration friendly to attract skilled workers.

“We see the economic and social challenges and that is why our country must have enough skilled workers to face these challenges,” said Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger, who is also an FDP Executive Committee member.

“There is a lack of IT workers, there is a lack of ‘techies’. But there is also a shortage of care workers and a shortage of truck drivers. We are talking about a whole range here.

“So we have to fundamentally address immigration law.”

READ ALSO: Germany must remove hurdles for foreign skilled workers, says minister

As part of their proposals, the FDP said English should be introduced as an additional administrative language among German authorities.

Many people who come to Germany from abroad struggle when attending official appointments at places like the Ausländerbehörde (immigration office) because – in the vast majority of times – the only language spoken is German. People are required to bring a translator with them to appointments if they can’t speak German well enough.

A staff member at a Hamburg immigration office helps a member of the public.

A staff member at a Hamburg immigration office helps a member of the public. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

The proposal from the FDP is part of a 10-point programme to facilitate the immigration of skilled workers, which the party presented in Berlin on Monday. The Liberals want to use the plan to push for a reform of immigration law in the coalition government. 

A lack of German language skills is “a very big hurdle” in recruiting urgently needed skilled workers, said Stark-Watzinger.

The minister proposed that Germany “introduce English as a second language in administration so that those who come to us can access it”.

Stark-Watzinger said that having all staff in authorities – known as Behörden in Germany – speak fluent English could not be implemented immediately. But it’s about “making the initial start”, she said.

Officials who already speak English could be specifically deployed to assist people from abroad, the minister said. For others, there could be opportunities for language training. 

“The signal must be: we are a country of immigration,” said Stark-Watzinger. “We want that. We want diversity.”

Bettina Stark-Watzinger of the FDP, gives an interview.

Bettina Stark-Watzinger of the FDP, gives an interview. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Carsten Koall

Germany is ‘country of immigration’

In the position paper, the FDP called for a fundamental overhaul of immigration policy to combat the shortage of skilled workers in many economic sectors.

“Labour and innovation from abroad will be indispensable for our country to successfully grow out of the current crises and to permanently meet the needs of our labour market,” it said.

“As a country of immigration, Germany is in a global competition for qualified workers, whom we urgently need in view of our demographic development and to secure our prosperity – especially with a view to the stability of our social systems, in particular the pension system.”

This makes it all the more important to shape immigration “not in a short-sighted and ideological way, but with foresight and realism”.

The party estimates the need for immigration into the German labour market at more than 400,000 people per year – and that will likely increase.

To make this possible, the existing European Blue Card scheme for the immigration of skilled workers should be expanded to include non-academic professions, the party proposes.

Furthermore, there should be a “Chancenkarte” or opportunity card to facilitate access to the German labour market for foreign workers on the basis of a points system.

The FDP’s Johannes Vogel, who also worked on the plan, tweeted: “A modern immigration policy with a real points system based on the Canadian model, better Blue Card, English as a second official language in contact with skilled workers, faster visas and recognition of degrees and more.”

READ ALSO: What Germany’s plans for a points-based system means for foreigners

Get rid of hurdles 

The FDP also says that more should be done to get rid of hurdles for people coming from abroad. 

Simpler recognition of foreign educational and professional qualifications is a “special priority”, according to the party. Visa procedures are to be accelerated and digitalised to a greater extent, too.

“Our message to skilled workers abroad must be that controlled immigration to our country is desired and welcome,” the proposal states.

The party also wants to see that the reform of German citizenship laws, which would allow non-EU nationals to hold more than one nationality, “be tackled quickly”.

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

Here’s a summary of the most important points:

  • Further development of immigration law, including the introduction of an ‘opportunity card’ based on a points system
  • Digitise the issuing of visas
  • Remove obstacles for the recognition of professional and educational qualifications and extend the Blue Card to non-academic professions
  • Facilitate the transition from the asylum procedure to regular immigration into the labour market
  • Reduce bureaucracy in labour migration and improve networking between authorities
  • Enable transnational labour migration in practice
  • Promote immigration opportunities to Germany locally
  • Establish English as an additional administrative language
  • Modernise citizenship law
  • Coherent immigration law from a single source

In the resolution, the FDP also welcomes steps already taken by the coalition “to make working in Germany much more attractive for talented people from abroad”, such as the Skilled Workers Immigration Act, which was passed by the previous government,

The party also commends the facilitation of family reunification and the planned right of residence for people with long-term ‘tolerated stay’ permits.

Stark-Watzinger said skilled workers are in demand internationally. “We (Germany) are in competition with other countries, so the hurdles to come to us must be very low,” she said.

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

As The Local has been reporting, German government ministers are easing red tape so that private companies can employ foreign workers during the current aviation staffing crisis that is causing disruption for travellers.

Ministers are also looking at how they can use this strategy in other sectors that are worker-starved, including hospitality. 

READ ALSO: Germany looks to foreign workers to ease ‘dramatic’ worker shortage

Other politicians are also pushing for change. Brandenburg’s state premier Dietmar Woidke (SPD) said he also saw a need for action.

“A lack of skilled workers is the greatest risk to good economic development throughout Germany,” Woidke told the Handelsblatt.

Woidke said the current immigration law was “no longer up to date”. But he said the government was currently working on improving the right of residence to allow well-integrated foreigners the right to stay. “I welcome these plans, from which Brandenburg will then also benefit,” said the head of government.

Member comments

  1. If Germany is serious about immigration and being economically competitive then it really does need to lower the barriers to gaining, not just dual citizenship, but citizenship per se. For example: demanding a language level of B1 is not necessary when the world speaks English

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For members

CITIZENSHIP

‘Dangerous and wrong’: Why German MPs are clashing over citizenship plans

In a heated debate in the Bundestag on Thursday, MPs traded blows over plans to liberalise Germany's tough citizenship laws, with both sides accusing each other of "dangerous" behaviour. Here's what the row was all about.

'Dangerous and wrong': Why German MPs are clashing over citizenship plans

Late on Thursday afternoon, an urgent debate saw emotions running high across the political spectrum as parties fought over what they saw as the future of the German economy and the essence of German identity. 

As MPs from the traffic-light parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) – heckled from the sidelines, CSU politician Andrea Lindholz delivered a scathing attack on what she described as the “irresponsible” and “unprofessional” behaviour of the SPD. 

Instead of pushing through far-reaching reforms, the Interior Ministry should have dealt with the “sensitive” topic of migration and citizenship in a more careful way, she argued. 

“I’m convinced that everyone that wants to become German should give up their previous citizenship,” Lindholz said. “Do you think it’s a good thing when German dual nationals take up military service for another country?

“Do you not think people from authoritarian countries should give up their old citizenship?”

READ ALSO: HISTORY: What’s behind the push to reform dual citizenship laws in Germany?

Taking the floor later in the debate, CDU MP Ariturel Hack took an even stronger line against the government’s plans to allow non-EU citizens to obtain dual nationality in Germany.

“You cannot share national loyalty between two countries,” he said, referencing demonstrations in favour of Recep Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, which he claimed numerous Turkish-Germans had participated in.

“The coalition’s plans for dual nationality are false, dangerous and they have to be stopped.” 

Why is the government clashing with the conservatives?

The debate on citizenship has reopened old wounds from the SPD’s time in government with the CDU and CSU, as well as sparking a charged discussion about how politicians talk about migration. 

Tensions had been building throughout the week after CDU parliamentary leader Thorsten Frei accused the government of wanting to “flog off” German nationality.

“The German passport must not become a junk commodity,” he told right-wing tabloid Bild on Friday. 

His comments – which were echoed in Bild’s headline – were a response to the Interior Ministry’s planned citizenship reforms, which include cutting down the years of residence required for German citizenship, allowing non-EU citizens to hold multiple nationalities and lowering language and integration requirements for people from the guest worker generation. 

Referring to the lower requirements for gaining citizenship, Frei accused the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) of turning German nationality into a “Black Friday deal” and lessening its value.

But his words drew fierce opposition during the emergency debate on Thursday, with SPD politician Mahmut Özdemir describing the comments as “shameful”. 

“They come out of the same drawer as ‘benefits tourism’,” he said, referring to the language CDU leader Friedrich Merz had used in recent weeks when describing Ukrainian refugees in Germany. “That drawer should stay closed.”

The conservatives’ rhetoric was also criticised by Reem Alabali-Radovan (SPD), who accused the CDU and CSU of peddling myths about migration that were “dangerous to society”.

“Chancellor Olaf Scholz and I recently met a few people who this relates to: women and men who bring our country further, whose parents and grandparents did the same,” she said. 

“Think about these people when you’re throwing around these words: it’s a slap in the face to all those people with a migrant background.”

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your German good enough for citizenship or permanent residency?

Citizenship reform plans

The urgent debate had been requested by members of the CDU and CSU parties in order to address the government’s proposals for removing barriers to naturalisation.

The conservatives have said they are vehemently opposed to the plans, arguing that the changes remove the incentive to integrate into German society and encourage people to move into the benefits system rather than working.

However, the proposals have drawn support from the left-wing Linke, who argue that denying long-term residents of Germany the right to vote is damaging to democracy.

In a combative speech in the Bundestag on Thursday afternoon, Linke leader Janine Wissler described the idea that the German passport would be devalued by higher levels of naturalisation as “insane”.

“What did you do for your German passport, Herr Merz?,” she shot at the CDU leader. “Exactly the same as me: nothing. It’s a pure accident, it’s a lottery.”

The passport isn’t devalued by more people becoming German, Wissler said. “You devalue people with this kind of language.”

Currently around 10.7 million people live in Germany without a German passport, meaning they are unable to participate in state and federal elections.

According to Özdemir, around half of this group has lived in the country for seven years or more.

If the government’s plans go through, however, non-EU migrants could be able to gain dual nationality as early as next summer. 

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: German Bundestag to debate law allowing dual citizenship in December

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