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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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IMMIGRATION

How ‘tolerated’ migrants could soon gain residency rights in Germany

The Bundestag has passed a law that will see people with a 'tolerated stay' gain a new path to permanent residency in Germany. Here's some background on the controversial law - and what it means for migrants.

How 'tolerated' migrants could soon gain residency rights in Germany

What’s going on?

After a fierce exchange of blows between politicians from the governing traffic-light coalition and the CDU/CSU parties, the Bundestag passed their so-called “right of opportunity to stay” (Chancel-Aufenthaltsrecht) law on Friday.

In the parliamentary vote, 371 MPs from the traffic-light coalition parties – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FPD) – voted in favour of the bill. A total of 226 parliamentarians voted against, including 157 CDU/CSU MPs, 66 MPs from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and three independents. 

Politicians from the left-wing Linke party, as well as a number of CDU/CSU MPs and three FDP MPs, were among the 57 who abstained. 

The law aims to provide a new path to residency for people who had lived in Germany on a ‘tolerated stay’ permit for at least five years by October 31st, 2022. This group will now be given 18 months to fulfil the criteria for permanent residency, which includes proving at least B1 German language skills and showing that they can financially support themselves. 

However, people who have committed crimes or given false information about their identity won’t have the opportunity to apply for a residence permit.  

READ ALSO: How Germany is planning new path to residency for migrants

What exactly is a ‘tolerated stay’?

A tolerated stay permit, or Duldung, is granted to people who are theoretically barred from staying in Germany but are, in practice, unable to leave. That could be due to their health, caring duties, the situation in their home country or a lack of identification papers. 

It’s estimated that around 136,600 people have been living in the country on this status for at least five years, including people who have sought asylum but whose applications have been turned down. 

Germany has historically dealt with these tricky situations by suspending deportation and instead offering a ‘Duldung’, which allows the person in question to stay for the time being. 

More recently, special statuses for migrants who end up in vocational training or work have been added, enabling some migrants to enter training or employment while living on a tolerated stay permit. 

However, the situation for many has remained precarious. Since tolerated status is meant to be temporary, authorities often end up issuing multiple permits over time, causing stress and uncertainty for migrants and additional paperwork for the state. 

How will life change for this group of people? 

For those who speak a bit of German and have a secure livelihood, things could become a lot easier in future. 

Those who have been here at least five years will be given an 18-month permit which will give them time to switch from a tenuous tolerated status to official permanent residency. In addition, people aged 27 or under and particularly well-integrated adults will be given this opportunity after just three years of residence.

This in turn would allow them to take up work or training, become self-employed, start a business and also claim social benefits.

Most importantly, they will have the security of knowing that they are allowed to remain in the country as long as they want to and will be able to show an official residence permit to employers, landlords and public authorities.

Woman protests against deportation Germany

A woman holds up a ‘Stop Deportation’ sign at a protest outside Berlin-Brandenburg airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

What’s more, they should also have an easier time when trying to reunite with close family members. 

However, some people could still slip through the net. According to official statistics, 242,000 people currently live in Germany on a tolerated status – meaning than more than 100,000 won’t be covered by the new law. And this will also be the case for people who end up with a Duldung in the future. 

Even among those who have been here for five years or longer, one key condition for permanent residency – proving their identity – could remain a major hurdle. However, the law does offer people a chance to get around this if they have taken “necessary and reasonable measures” to clarify their identity.

READ ALSO: How to get fast-track permanent residency rights in Germany

What has the response been to the new law?

Unsurprisingly, the governing SDP – who drafted the law – have argued that their approach will finally give people a humane route to staying in Germany on a permanent basis.

“We are ending the current practice of chain toleration,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), referring to the practice of giving multiple tolerated status notices over time. “In doing so, we are also putting an end to the uncertainty that often lasts for years for people who have long since become part of our society.”

Adis Ahmetovic, who grew up as a child as a ‘tolerated’ migrant, spoke in the Bundestag of his own difficulties and said he had even faced deportation orders. “It clearly didn’t work, because now I’m an elected MP,” he said, adding that the right of opportunity law was a move towards “fairness, participation, recognition and respect”.

However, not everyone has been positive about the change, with the CDU and CSU parties in particular speaking out against it. Deputy parliamentary party leader Andrea Lindholz (CSU) told the government it would be better to focus “on those who are really entitled to protection”.

CDU Andrea Lindholz

CDU deputy parliamentary leader Andrea Lindholz speaks out against the “right of opportunity” law in the Bundestag. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

For well-integrated long-term tolerated migrants, there are already enough exceptions and pragmatic solutions, she added. 

Axel Ströhlein, president of the Bavarian State Office for Asylum and Repatriation, also criticised the fact that the path to residency would only apply to people who had already been deemed ineligible for asylum or protection from deportation. He said the new regulation would undermine the meaning and purpose of the right to asylum and could send the signal that a lack of cooperation is worthwhile and leads to a residence title.

Others, however, welcomed the change but said it didn’t go far enough.

Kristian Garthus-Niegel of the Saxon Refugee Council had spoken out in support of the Linke’s proposed amendment to effectively end the ‘tolerated’ status by removing the cut-off date for long-term residence specified in the law. This amendment was rejected in the Bundestag. 

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

Are there any other important changes to know about? 

Yes. Skilled workers who come to Germany will also have an easier time bringing their family over in future as the government has permanently waived language requirements for spouses of highly qualified workers. 

In addition, they want to make language and integration courses far more widely available and speed up the process of applying for asylum in future. 

People who have committed crimes or who are considered dangerous, on the other hand, will be removed from the country more easily and swiftly. 

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