Foreign Labor Opening the Door to Immigrants

Skilled workers from outside the European Union are critical to Germany's success. But the country must change its residency rules and market itself better to attract them.
I would work here if you paid me.

No, not every part of Germany suffers from shortages of skilled labor. And yes, there is enormous potential inside the country among immigrants, women and low-skilled workers.

But a report by the Minister for Labor and Social Affairs shows that there is sense in introducing new immigration legislation. It calculated that only if 300,000 to 400,000 employees were brought permanently into the German workforce each year would the country’s social security remain stable.

So it’s high time the conservative Christian Social Union in Bavaria, the sister party of the ruling Christian Democrat Union, and German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière abandon their opposition to a new law.

Yet Mr. de Maizière says: “We don’t need a new law. We need immigration marketing.” Wrong. Of course, at the moment we have massive immigration at a net of over 400,000 persons per year, but the flow will quickly dry up when Southern Europe recovers economically and Eastern Europe runs out of young talent.

We don’t need a new law. We need immigration marketing. Thomas de Maizière, German Interior Minister

That is why skilled labor from outside the European Union is the decisive resource of the future. But up until now, few non-Europeans have been attracted to our labor market - in 2013 less than 40,000 arrived. This isn’t just because of the language, but also because of our laws.

Although our right of residence is one of the most liberal in the industrial countries, it is still opaque. It is based on the principle of “for whom will we make an exception?”

The center-left Social Democratic Party, which is the junior partner in a coalition with the CDU/CSU, suggests a point system as an alternative. But even business is now critical of that - we don’t need Asian taxi drivers with a college degree.

That said, our current process fails to take into account vital criteria such as age or language skills. Thus, for example, a technician without a degree isn’t able to get residency when he has a job and speaks fluent German.

The whole group of skilled workers below college level is treated poorly. While academics are given a visa for six months to look for a job, this opportunity isn't extended to skilled workers without a degree - even if they could fill gaps in the few sectors that are very short on workers.

This is bad news because the risk of shortages is far higher in skilled worker sectors than those that usually employ university graduates.

The whole group of skilled workers below college level is treated poorly.

Mr. de Maizière is right, however, in calling for better marketing. The first step would be a more simple, concentrated immigration law. It would finally send out the message made necessary by the economy: Skilled workers of all countries - we need you and welcome you.

In recent times, the marketing of the German labor market has got better. But the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development still warns that Germany is falling behind in the race for human capital. 

Mr. de Maizière could shift the marketing responsibility onto businesses. They do have to play their part, but ultimately the matter of how a country markets itself to attract skilled labor is a job for the nation. This is because only it is in a position to tempt foreigners on behalf of small enterprises and middle-sized companies, freelancers, shelters, homes and hospitals.  

A word about language. Skilled laborers are naturally attracted to English-speaking countries. But this leads to increased competition and could be an incentive for Germany. Germany needs a far more language courses, especially those that could teach work-related language. If a lack of German is the only obstacle in filling a job vacancy, the state must help the applicant to learn it.


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