Germany's dearth of skilled laborers has forced Berlin to look hard at existing immigration policies, and the government's new plan designed to attract more with greater ease put forth jointly by the Interior and Labor Ministries cleared the Cabinet on Wednesday. It will still need to go through both houses of parliament.
The new bill is part of a comprehensive migration package the ruling coalition says will modernize the country's immigration, residency and citizenship laws. Existing skilled labor immigration rules were established in March 2020, when Germany was governed by the so-called grand coalition headed by Angela Merkel.
The draft law estimates that it could increase skilled labor migration from non-EU countries by around 60,000 per year, roughly doubling the pre-COVID pandemic figures of 2019.
The policy would be based on a new points system that considers attributes in five categories.
These are qualifications, German language skills, career experience, connections to Germany (for instance relatives already living in the country), and age.
Labor Minister Hubertus Heil said in December when first unveiling the plans that people deemed to meet three or more of these criteria would be eligible for closer consideration.
Changes include a lowering of various hurdles that have made it difficult for the country to attract workers from abroad, something Germany must do if it is to fill the historically high number of job openings in its labor market. Berlin said the number of vacant jobs reached 1.98 million in the fourth quarter of 2022, the highest ever recorded.
What are the most important changes?
The bill was presented to the Cabinet by Labor Minister Hubertus Heil and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.
Asked to describe the nature of the changes to the immigration rules, Heil said there were "three pillars" to the new system.
The first was to ensure "that people with a qualification and a job offfer — including those who qualified on the job [not at university] — can come to Germany more easily," he told DW.
The next, he said, was that "qualifications are important, but a qualification that applies in your native country plus a job offer should be enough" to come to Germany, and then to square any issues with paper qualifications later. Famously, Germany is often reticent to recognize international qualifications, for instance university degrees, as comparable to its own.
"And the third pillar is, we also want to give people the chance to seek work in Germany," Heil said.
This third option would operate on a points-based system, with people scoring well in categories like work experience, qualifications, German language skills, age and ties to Germany being more likely to qualify for consideration.
As before, those individuals who have a recognized diploma and a job contract will be given an EU Blue Card that will allow them to remain in the European Union for up to four years. The annual income required to qualify for this will also be lowered from its current levels.
New rules aim to make it easier for workers to bring their families to Germany as well as attaining permanent residency status.
IT specialists with pertinent job experience will receive EU Blue Cards even if they do not possess an university degree.
Those specialists possessing recognized academic diplomas or trade certification will also be allowed to work in sectors other than those for which they have degrees.
Foreigners with adequate job experience and qualifications from their country of origin will be allowed to work in Germany even if those vocational degrees are not recognized in Germany. However, those individuals will be required to show proof of proper salary levels as a means to combat wage dumping.
Moreover, individuals will be allowed to work up to 20 hours a week while looking for long term employment.
Lastly, it will now be possible for individuals in possession of academic degrees or vocational certificates to remain in Germany for up to one year while looking for employment.
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