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WORKING IN GERMANY

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

Germany is overhauling its immigration system as it struggles with a huge worker shortage. We spoke to an expert to ask how the country can attract more people - and compete with other popular expat destinations like the US or the Netherlands.

Two interviewers look at a candidate's CV during an interview.
Two interviewers look at a candidate's CV during an interview. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

As the Local has been reporting, Germany is currently facing a significant worker shortage.

We spoke to Panu Poutvaara, Professor of Economics at the University of Munich and Director of the Ifo Center for International Institutional Comparisons and Migration Research to find out if Germany’s immigration policies are affecting this and how they could be improved.

The Local: Why is there currently such a shortage of workers in Germany?

Panu Poutvaara: Before the pandemic, the German economy was actually doing very well. After the 2008 financial crisis, in fact, it was one of the best performing European economies which meant that the need for workers increased and this trend has been growing for the last 14 years.

Now, there are more people entering retirement than there are entering the workforce.

Which sectors are seeing worker shortages?

With an ageing population, there is a growing demand for workers in healthcare and in old age care.

But there is also a lack of skilled workers such as tradesmen, plumbers, and electricians. IT specialists are also in high demand globally, which means that there is a lot of international competition, particularly from the US.

A woman uses her kitchen worktop as a standing desk while working from home.

A woman uses her kitchen worktop as a standing desk while working from home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

Is Germany an attractive place for foreigners to come and work?

Germany certainly has a lot of opportunities to offer and, in terms of the total number of immigrants, Germany has become one of the most popular destinations worldwide.

But there are also significant disadvantages for foreigners moving to Germany.

For IT specialists, for example, the US is a more attractive prospect for many people, especially from countries like India that also have English as an official language. Furthermore, salaries are higher and taxes are lower in the US than in Germany and American companies are the market leaders in these sectors.

Do you think language is a big issue then, in terms of putting people off coming to Germany?

Yes, and I think Germany needs to be more flexible with its language requirements. In fact, I expect the current government to propose acknowledging English skills in the immigration process, in addition to German skills.

The Netherlands, for example, have an advantage over Germany in that is much easier to live there without speaking the local language and most services are available also in English.

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

In my opinion, it would be good to have more jobs in English too, as far as possible. This would mean that employers should think about whether German is really necessary to be able to do the jobs they’re recruiting for.

What other things do you think Germany could do to encourage immigration?

One thing would be to improve the immigration process. I know that a lot of people currently face very long waiting times at the German embassies, and this presents an unnecessary hurdle that could quite easily be alleviated.

Another thing that Germany could do, would be to broaden the offer of German language learning in foreign countries.

For professions like healthcare, it’s imperative that workers speak German so that they can communicate with their patients. Therefore, it would be good to offer young internationals the chance to learn German in their home countries.

The Goethe institute around the world has the potential to improve such offers, to strengthen partnerships with countries like India and offer students German language learning programmes.

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

Panu Poutvaara, Professor of Economics at the University of Munich and Director of the Ifo Center for International Institutional Comparisons and Migration Research.

Panu Poutvaara, Professor of Economics at the University of Munich and Director of the Ifo Center for International Institutional Comparisons and Migration Research. Photo courtesy of Panu Poutvaara.

What do you think about the new points-based immigration system that the German government recently announced?

I welcome it. It’s an improvement.

The proposals aren’t fully fleshed out yet, and it will be interesting to see how the points system will work exactly in case of excess demand in a given year. Will preference be given to those who get the highest number of points, or is everyone who has the required number of points allowed to come until the quota is reached?

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s points-based immigration plans

One thing that is good about the proposals is that they also target less qualified people and not just those with a certain type of education.

As part of plans to overhaul immigration laws, Germany is planning to allow non-EU nationals to hold multiple citizenships. Do you think the proposed changes could help attract more skilled workers to the country?

I think it will clearly have some effect, but that it’s not the most important factor.

The problem is that some of the countries from which migrants are coming, such as India, don’t allow dual citizenship themselves.

I think reducing bureaucratic hurdles and speeding up the process of giving visas to people who want to come to Germany from non-EU countries, will have a bigger impact than offering dual citizenship.

Are there any other factors that could help alleviate the worker shortage?

Another thing to mention is that Germany still has a challenge when it comes to integrating people who are already in the country.

Unemployment rates are higher among refugees and Germany should definitely try to improve labour force participation in this section of society. 

READ ALSO: ‘Happy to work here’: How refugees in Germany are easing labour shortage

I welcome government plans to give people who initially came to Germany as asylum seekers before January 1st, 2017 and who have been given only temporary permission to stay, an opportunity to obtain permanent permission to stay, provided that they find a job and learn German.

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WORKING IN GERMANY

German employers ‘must give notice of holidays expiring’, court rules

Employers in Germany often set strict deadlines for taking annual leave - but a new court ruling states that these deadlines could be invalid if employees don't inform their workers of the rules.

German employers 'must give notice of holidays expiring', court rules

Whether it’s a heavy workload or prolonged illness, there are plenty of reasons that holiday days can end up going unused. In many cases, they simply expire at the end of the calendar year – but are there some cases in which they shouldn’t expire at all?

According to a new decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) – the highest court in the EU – some workers may be entitled to compensation for their “expired” holidays after all.

In a landmark ruling based on a dispute in Germany, the ECJ has stated that deadlines for taking holidays are only valid from the date when the employer tells their employees about the rules. It means that if workers are unaware that they have to use their annual leave within a certain time, these holiday days can still be taken after the supposed deadline has passed.

The latest decision comes on the back of a similar ruling by Germany’s Federal Labour Court in 2019, which obliged employers to remind their workers to take their holiday before it expired.

The Labour Court said that the reminders should be addressed directly to the employee in writing and should inform them explicitly that their holiday days could expire if the employee decided not to take them.

READ ALSO: Why German employers will soon have to record staff working hours

Law firm dispute

In the latest case in question, a tax clerk who worked at a law firm from 1996 to 2017 claimed she was entitled to financial compensation for several days of holiday.

Her contract entitled her to 24 days of annual leave, which she said she was unable to take over a number of years because she had too much work to do.

At the beginning of March 2012, her employer certified that she was entitled to a total of 76 days of remaining leave from 2011 and previous years.

This did not expire on March 31st 2013 as usual because she had not been able to take it “due to the heavy workload in the office”, the ruling explained. 

In the following years, the employee once again did not take the full amount of annual leave she was entitled to. During this time, the employer did not remind her to take her holidays, nor did he indicate that the entitlement to leave could be forfeited if she did not take it.

Financial compensation

After the tax clerk left the firm in July 2017, she received just €3,201.38 for 14 days of leave that hadn’t been taken in 2017. 

According to the employee, at least 101 further days of leave were unaccounted for. In a court complaint, she demanded full compensation for these additional days of unused holiday.

However, her previous employer argued that the time limit for taking the holiday days had expired.

The case was initially heard by Solingen Labour Court and then by Düsseldorf Regional Labour Court. It subsequently ended up before the Federal Labour Court, who asked the ECJ to provide an opinion on whether Germany’s three-year cap on taking annual leave was compatible with European law.

READ ALSO: Bildungsurlaub: What is Germany’s ‘education holiday’ and how can I use it?

The entrance to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The entrance to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Germany’s three-year cap on untaken leave is compatible with EU law. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Nicolas Bouvy

According to the ECJ, the time limit isn’t problematic. However, it can only apply from the date that the employee is informed about the rule.

That means that, if workers are unaware that their holiday days can expire, the days can be still be taken after the three-year time limit is up. 

“Indeed, since the employee is to be regarded as the weaker party to the employment contract, the task of ensuring that the right to paid annual leave is actually exercised should not be shifted entirely to the employee,” the judgment from Luxembourg states.

The former law firm employee is now likely to be entitled to a hefty payout from her previous employer. In its own judgement, the Federal Labour Court declared that the complainant was entitled to compensation for 76 days of leave at a rate of €228.64 per day.

This equates to a payout of around €17,400 plus interest.  

READ ALSO: Which public holidays are coming up in Germany?

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