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IMMIGRATION

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

Despite record levels of immigration, Germany still faces a huge worker shortage. Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil has put forward plans to reform immigration law and, the government has approved a new Skilled Worker Strategy.

An employee of an electric motor and fan manufacturer, works on a fan in production.
An employee of an electric motor and fan manufacturer, works on a fan in production. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Kirsten Neumann

Germany is currently facing a significant worker shortage and, in the last quarter alone, there were nearly 2 million vacant positions on the country’s job market. 

The German government currently expects that, by 2026, there will be 240,000 jobs in Germany for which there will be no qualified candidates.

One of the ways in which Germany intends to tackle this impending labour force crisis is by replacing the current immigration system similar to the points-based model used in Canada. But this is not the only way.

Last week, Germany’s Federal Cabinet approved a new Skilled Labour Strategy which lays out various ways in which Germany will try to plug the worker shortage.

PODCAST: Germany’s plans to modernise citizenship and immigration laws, and is cash still king?

Which immigration reforms are currently on the table?

In September, Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil presented his initial plans for a new Chancenkarte – a so-called “opportunity card” which will offer foreign nationals the chance to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer. 

Under the plans, internationals will be able to come to live in Germany as long as they fulfil at least three of the criteria of having a university degree or professional qualification, professional experience of at least three years, a language skill or previous residence in Germany and are under 35.

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

This means that, unlike at the moment, proof of qualification and work experience abroad will suffice for entry into Germany.

This would open up the labour market to foreign specialists who don’t yet have a qualification recognised in Germany, as they would be able to obtain these qualifications with the help of a German employer, who would sign a contract with them and also pay for some of their language courses.

It is still not clear, however, when the new points-based immigration system will come into effect.

According to the Skilled Worker Strategy paper, other important goals are to enable immigrants to make greater use of the employment and training opportunities in Germany and for the recognition procedures for foreign educational and professional qualifications to be simplified. 

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

The Strategy Paper also talks about “a goal-oriented pre-integration policy” which would include providing information and advice on immigration procedures, language courses, and orientation services in the country of origin for the potential skilled workers themselves as well as for their family members.

What else is Germany doing to deal with skilled worker shortage?

Along with simplifying immigration procedures, the German government also wants to combat the shortage of skilled workers with measures to stimulate workforce participation by those already living in Germany.

A metal worker works with a vice in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Kirsten Neumann

Due to the high part-time employment rate, the average annual volume of paid work done by women in Germany is about 30 percent below that of men. Therefore, the aim, according to the Strategy Paper, is to encourage more women to work full-time with measures such as expanding childcare and reducing financial disincentives – such as Ehegattensplitting (“marital splitting”).

READ ALSO: Ehegattensplitting: How did Germany’s marriage tax law become so controversial?

The government also wants to do more to promote training and study courses in sectors and occupations most affected by the skilled worker shortage. This applies, for example, to the skilled trades – such as plumbers, electricians and carpenters – where a high proportion of employees are approaching retirement age.

The government also wants to open up continuing education programs and to provide incentives to encourage low-skilled, unemployed and benefits recipients to catch up on their vocational qualifications.

Another crucial issue to be addressed is the training of migrants who have been living in Germany for some time. From January 1st, 2022 those who have been living in Germany for at least five years are allowed to stay and work. 

According to the Strategy Paper, the federal government is also offering support and further vocational training for immigrants who still need qualifications to gain a foothold in the German labour market.

READ ALSO: German cities warn of growing refugee crisis

Speaking to the Labour Minister on a visit to Berlin last week, Klaus-Dieter Müller, managing director of a construction company with around 170 employees, criticised what he sees as a shortage of young talent. Many of the worker shortage issues, he said, could best be solved by better training for migrants.

Builders work on a building site in Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

According to Müller, a lack of technical language classes for migrants is a key reason “why motivated and talented people fail their craft training”. Just recently, he said, his company lost two apprentices because they failed to get their vocational degrees due to language difficulties. 

“These are enormous losses in our industry, demographic change is having an extreme impact on us, we need people with a migration history, I don’t know anyone who says otherwise,” he said. 

Klaus-Dieter Müller also said that bureaucratic hurdles also have a paralysing effect on his industry. In the case of his trainees from Syria and Lebanon, it took almost two years for the authorities to recognise their school certificates, he said.

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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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