Germany Changes Immigration Laws to Urgently Fill 2 Million Skilled Workers Jobs

Germany has 2 million jobs to fill. Now it is reforming its immigration laws to offer streamlined visa processes and new opportunities for qualified foreign workers.

From healthcare to IT, carpenters to technicians, Germany’s “help wanted” sign is blinking red. At a German industry event in mid-June, Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised business leaders that change was coming, and with less red tape.

Germany needs 400,000 foreign workers to make up the shortfall every year, according to the Federal Employment Office. And when the baby boomers retire en masse, the problem will only get worse.

Lawmakers from the parties in government — the center-left Social Democrats, the Greens, and the neoliberal Free Democrats — have worked out the final details of a skilled labor immigration law.

The bill heads for a vote this Friday (23.6.) in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament.

Three options

The bill, initially drawn up by the labor and interior ministries, seeks to open up new opportunities for people from countries outside the European Union.

They could come to Germany either thanks to qualifications and degrees that regulators here will recognize in a faster and more streamlined process; or based on their work experience; or through a point system for job seekers with potential but without an existing employment contract.

Blue Card

Germany introduced what is known as the EU Blue Card, for highly qualified specialists, a decade ago. Now, it will also become easier to get, thanks to a lower income requirement.

In the future, they will need to make an annual minimum salary of €43,800 ($48,000), according to the news agency Reuters. And for IT specialists professional experience can take the place of a university degree.

Incoming workers will also be less restricted in their line of work. Until now, it has been difficult to change industries, based on the existing visa rules.

The ‘opportunity card’

With a point system under a new “opportunity card,” foreigners who don’t yet have a job lined up will be permitted to come to Germany and given a year to find employment. A prerequisite is holding a vocational qualification or university degree.

Points will be awarded for example for German and/or English language skills, existing ties to Germany, and the potential of accompanying life partners or spouses on the German labor market. The new reforms also seek to make it easier for prospective employers to bring their dependents with them.

An opportunity card permits casual work for up to 20 hours a week while looking for a qualified job, and probationary employment is also permitted.

Those who are awaiting asylum approval, and got their application in by March 29, 2023, have the appropriate qualifications, and a job offer and will also be permitted to join the labor market. This would also allow them to enter vocational training.

A similar change holds for those here on a tourist visa. They will not be required to first leave the country, before returning in an employment context.

Fewer hurdles in the recognition of degrees

A major obstacle to immigration has long been the requirement to have degrees recognized in Germany. This is a long, bureaucratic, and often frustrating process.

In the future, skilled immigrants will no longer have to have their degrees recognized in Germany if they can show they have at least two years of professional experience and a degree that is state-recognized in their country of origin.

However, this is only aimed at skilled workers above a certain salary threshold.

The Skilled Workers Act also provides for a new arrangement: Someone who already has a job offer can already come to Germany and start working while their degree is still being recognized.

Skeptics don’t expect improvement

Not everyone is happy with the proposed changes, which first came up for debate in March. Some in the opposition see a problem that legislation alone can’t fix.

“When thousands of skilled workers willing to immigrate are waiting for months for a visa or a recognition of skills, there finally needs to be enough staff, for example, at consulates — not new point system,” Hermann Gröhe, a lawmaker with the conservative CDU-CSU block, said.

Others are mindful of shortcomings in Germany’s digital infrastructure, which hamper visa processing and put off potential foreign labor.

“If a computer scientist from Pakistan or India has to wait months to get an appointment at the consulate for a visa, the doubt that sets in will have him choosing another destination country,” Gerd Landsberg, the managing director of the German Association of Cities and Municipalities, told the regional newspaper, Rheinische Post. He pointed out that all industrialized countries are competing for skilled work

In a recent interview with the Berlin daily, Tagesspiegel, the director of Berlin’s immigration office, Engelhard Mazanke, said his office alone already has a three-month backlog and needs at least 50 additional staff to process the influx of thousands of foreign workers and their families. He pointed out that they will come on top of refugees from Ukraine, Middle Eastern, and African countries, along with the regular flow of students and other kinds of migrants from around the world.

Meanwhile, a reform of the citizenship law is on the cards, too. To give immigrants an incentive to integrate and stick around for the long term.

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