Immigration For Members

Could bureaucracy trip up Germany's planned points-based visa system?

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
Could bureaucracy trip up Germany's planned points-based visa system?
A sign points to the Foreigners Authority and the Public Order Office of Frankfurt am Main. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The German government is currently working on a wide-scale revamp of its immigration laws - including plans for a points-based residence permit for skilled workers. But experts are concerned that relentless bureaucracy could still be off-putting for would-be immigrants.


Germany is forging ahead with its overhaul of immigration laws at an unusually fervent pace.

Earlier this year, the Interior Ministry drafted its Skilled Immigration Act, laying out plans for looser immigration rules for skilled workers and a new points-based permit. Within weeks, the draft had been signed off on by the cabinet, paving the way for a parliamentary vote.

In re-shaping the immigration system, the government hopes it can increase the number of skilled workers coming to the country by as many as 65,000. It wants to hit its targets by making the Blue Card system more flexible and attractive, relaxing rules for the recognition of qualifications, wooing international students and offering new routes for skilled people to enter the country. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What's in Germany's new draft law on skilled immigration?

Explaining the rationale behind the changes, Green MP Misbah Khan - who has been working on the reforms - said Germany wanted to follow in the footsteps of other countries with successful immigration policies.

"We want to have a transparent points system that gives people the opportunity to come to Germany and look for work," she told The Local's Germany in Focus podcast. "Immigration countries such as Canada and New Zealand have that practice installed and they’ve had a good experience with that - so why not try it? It's a proven practice and to be more visible and more attractive and show that you're interested in people coming."

At present, she said, Germany is "very, very unattractive" for skilled migrants - an issue that the coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and Free Democrats (FDP) is keen to change.

But not everyone is convinced that the revamp of the immigration system will have the desired effect. 

'Change of mindset'

Speaking on Germany in Focus, Jan Dannenbring, a specialist in labour law at the German Confederation for Skilled Crafts, said that despite the positive changes, the major problem of German bureaucracy would remain. 

"The German government is doing what it can to make it more attractive for foreign workers to come to Germany," he explained. "But the big ‘but’ is really the administration. If the administration doesn't work as well as it should, then many foreign workers will just not seize these opportunities, but rather go to other possible countries."


Dannenbring said he appreciated the "change of mindset" in the forthcoming law and the fact that it provides "many new possibilities to come to the German labour market". 

In particular, he was impressed by a relaxation of work permit rules that could allow people with just two years of training and two years of professional experience to move to the country, even if their qualifications aren't officially recognised yet. 

However, the labour law expert said he was concerned that backlogs in processing visas could get worse under the planned points-based system - and that it may not bring people into the country.

"It (the points-based system) is an interesting feature of the new migration law, but I have doubts if it will make the migration law much more attractive than it is at the moment," Dannenbring said.


Visa application forms

Visa application forms at Hamburg Foreigner's Office. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

The addition of the points-based visa is inspired by Canada and other countries that base their whole migration system on points, he added. 

"In Germany we have a totally different structure of our migration law - it is based on certain specified resident permits and for certain categories of migrants: for trainees, for specialists, for people who want to seek a recognition of their diplomas and so on."

Since Germany will keep its existing permits in place - but simply include points an alternative route for arriving in the country - the points-based Chancenkarte feels rather "artificial", Dannenbring explained. 

"It will also put an additional burden on the administration to see it through, because it's quite difficult to distribute the points," he said. "And how many points do you give for which qualification, for which language and knowledge, which age and so on. So I really have doubts that this new system will work so well - I don't think that it will lead to much more migration as it is."

READ ALSO: Chancenkarte: How many points could you get on Germany's planned skilled worker visa?


Long delays 

The off-putting bureaucracy that foreigners have to go through in Germany has been well-documented in recent years. 

Last December, The Local reported several stories of internationals struggling with a dearth of appointments, long delays and a lack of transparency at the Foreigner's Office. 

This could be an issue that lessens the attractiveness of the country as a destination, even after the visa rules have been relaxed. 

Speaking to The Local, Green MP Khan agreed that the waiting times for visa appointments and the level of bureaucracy was currently too high in Germany. 

Green MP Misbah Khan

Green MP Misbah Khan, who is currently working on the immigration reforms.

However, she said this was also on the government's radar and an issue that they were working hard to solve alongside the changes to the immigration system. 

"The workload of migration authorities is really, really high in Germany," Khan explained. "On one hand, we need to ensure that the migration authorities have good enough resources and the resources they need - so we need to provide financial resources but also the necessary personnel.

"On the other hand, the current procedures are really, really inefficient - so many bureaucratic steps can be optimised and have to be improved. So this is where I see the greatest potential to reduce the workload in these migration authorities. This is something we will tackle as well."

READ ALSO: 'Traumatising': Foreign residents share stories from German immigration offices



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